Parents need self-care, too
Pandemic parenting has been a deranged mad dash. A high-speed, full-contact sport. In this game, which has lasted a year and four months (and counting), emotions run high, breaks have been severely limited and the playing field is constantly changing. Parents have been spread incredibly thin. Many of us have had to cope with significant loss, and social and economic stress has run high. Parenting roles have expanded to include teacher, at-home office worker, therapist and illusionist (you know, when you’re supposedly in two places at once).
Questions from concerned parents about how best to support their sad, angry, struggling children through quarantine and remote schooling have come pouring into mental health clinics and pediatricians’ offices around the world. We’ve done our best to help, but we know that there hasn’t been enough help — or enough answers. Parents: you’re doing an excellent job navigating this unprecedented, scary, seemingly impossible terrain. Your children, however much they have cried or screamed or pulled away, are lucky to have your support.
May was mental health month, but one month is an insufficient period of time to focus on our mental health. We need to think about and nurture our mental health every month — every day. Parents: starting now, it’s time to ensure that you’re not only looking after your children, but that you’re taking care of yourselves. Remembering your own self-care is not only crucial to your physical and emotional wellness, but it’s absolutely necessary for the well being of your children. Said another way, which is important for those of us (you know who you are!) who just won’t make the time for self-care, we are helping our children by helping ourselves.
Self-care can take many different forms, and we all have to find what works best for us. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be complicated or take too much time. Here are some ideas to get you started or to add to your current repertoire:
- Focus on the basics: Ensure that you’re generally getting enough sleep (7-8 hours) and eating a healthy diet (food is fuel)
- Try to set and maintain daily schedules and routines. Of course, weekdays may look different from weekends, but having some usual structure to your days is helpful when you are stressed
- Speaking of stress, identify some go-to coping skills for those extra tough days. These can include things from this list, but may also include things like meditation apps, listening to music, crafting — whatever works best for you
- Find time for fresh air every day (even just a few minutes is worth it)
- Exercise. This does NOT have to be high intensity. Just move a little!
- Focus on that which you can control. Problem solve ways to adjust as best as you can to those things that are happening outside of your control
- Make sure to take time for yourself — time to do something that makes you feel good. This could be a walk with a friend or 10 minutes of alone time with your phone in the bathroom (we’ve all done it!) Just try to find some time to do something for yourself every day
- Connect with others. Talk to family and friends. Talk about good things and vent about bad things. Communication is so important right now
Finally, when it comes to yourself, exercise the same love and compassion that you offer your children. We all have good days and bad days, and we need to try not to beat ourselves up when we make a mistake. Yes, we all screw up—occupational hazard of being human. And let’s face it, we’re not our best selves right now! The self-criticism doesn’t help, and we don’t deserve it. We’re all just doing our best.
Dr. Gabrielle Roberts is a psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital.
About the Author
Dr. Gabrielle Roberts is a clinical psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill.