Steps to Self-Care for the 24/7 Parent
As a parent, you were likely way ahead of the curve regarding preparation and facing the approaching pandemic. Your first thoughts were for your children and how you could best protect them. Now you’re sheltering in place if you can or doing your best otherwise.
Whether you feel you’ve processed your grief or not it’s clear that life today is different. No matter how mundane it might have seemed, it’s fair to say you would be pretty okay with having that life back.
Either way, your children are home, and you are parenting. All the time.
The idea of being home with the kids full time was beautiful in theory, but can be difficult in reality. You’re probably frustrated with them as well as yourself. Your impatience with them is hard to hide even when they aren’t cranky.
You’re likely experiencing the loop of guilt caused by the lure of impossible Instagram and Pinterest ideals. Guilt is normal, but it’s not terribly useful. Ideals are great guides, but they shouldn’t rule our lives.
To address those feelings of guilt, it might help to remember that our children learn from what we show them. When they see us not taking care of ourselves perpetually, they take that forward and that’s the life they will likely live too.
There’s a more practical perspective also—if you don’t or can’t recharge your batteries, it’s hard to fulfill your parental duties. Everyone suffers in both scenarios.
A good first step towards setting the stage for self-care is to reject the notion that anything should be perfect. Relaxing any rigid expectations you might have of yourself and your family can lead to a big boost in how you feel about your situation. At the end of any day, if you can say that everyone got fed, slept well and you had quality interactions, you can count it as successful. What matters most is not the amount of time spent with our children, but the quality of that time. They need you at your best, not necessarily at your most.
Create Your Own Space
It’s time to carve out a niche for yourself. You, the kids and your parenting experience will be better for it.
If you already have a hobby or reading space established for yourself, great. If you don’t, set up a nook that is just yours. Find a space that you could call your own, even if it’s a corner and just one chair. Keep a bag or basket with some items to help you “zone out” such as a tablet for writing thoughts or sketching, books or magazines, a small hand-held game. Avoid using the phone or computer for social media. Instead, try playing one of the many videos that loop pleasant scenes and music which will tie up your computer or phone and can help get you into a more relaxed state. Here’s one example:
Take Time For Yourself
Finding a bit of space is probably the easiest part; it’s a little bit trickier to find the time to use it. If you have an amicable parenting partner, you can create a set schedule to give each other time. If you don’t have a partner, look at ways to make more quality time for yourself, but make sure it’s dedicated to you. Getting up an hour before the kids do doesn’t count toward “you time” if its entirety is spent on social media or doing chores.
Other ways to arrange blocks of time – set up regular screen play or visit times for the kids with classmates or family. For younger kids, or if they are beyond nap time, create a quiet time where they also go to read or do something quietly for an hour.
Get the Kids Involved
The next step is to get the kids involved in taking on some of the things that are part of your workload. This one can be difficult because it can be stressful in itself. Part of the secret in this is to again, let go of perfect. Delegate regular chores to them if you haven’t already. They can fold and hang clothes, wipe counters and cupboards, pick up and organize toys. Older kids can do things like cleaning and putting away the dishes, cleaning the bathroom and vacuuming. Heap the praise on and they might start to look forward to it.
Also, allowing kids to help with mealtime at their comfort level, even if it’s a sandwich and chips, can help in making you not feel spread so thin. Little things like this can buy you some time to schedule your self-care. There might be some work in the initial guidance, but it will ultimately pay off.
Find Mutual Activities
The last thing is that the time you spend with your kids doesn’t have to be all about just them and only their interests. If you step out of the entertainer/educator role, you can be in a place with them where you find mutual delight. When you can accomplish that, and you’re not always “on” you can feel more in your own space too. For instance, the books you read to your children can be much more advanced than they themselves can read. If you choose stories that are also entertaining to you, it’s no longer a chore. Books such as the “Harry Potter” series, “The Golden Compass,” “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of The Rings” are some, but any advanced story that isn’t too scary or otherwise unsuitable would be just as good. Audiobooks are also a great way to share an experience a little more equally too.
Other mutual activities could be gardening, model building, baking or virtual tours of museums. The point is to find something you enjoy and incorporate time with the kids into it, instead of the other way around.
It’s hard to say when things will return to any kind of semblance of life from before. But it’s likely to never be quite like it was. This transitioning time in your home can be an opportunity to slow down a bit and reexamine what you want for your family. As you work through these changes a little at a time and take time for yourself in the process, you may find it’s more like what you really wanted after all.