Posted on April 22, 2009 by Debra Burdick
Updated: 2021 Although parenting can be one of the most rewarding and joyful roles in the world, at the same time it can also be one of the most demanding, frustrating, exhausting and even overwhelming jobs in the world. If you are like most parents, you know that parenting a child can sometimes be really hard. Parents are on demand 24/7.
Therefore, it is extremely important for all parents to learn to take particularly good care of themselves. If you have ever flown over water, you have heard the flight attendant demonstrate how to use the oxygen masks. Remember how they always say ‘if you are traveling with a child, place the mask over you own nose first and then put your child’s mask(s) over your child’s nose’. The theory here is that if you don’t have oxygen soon enough you may pass out and you won’t be able to help your children get their masks on. But if you take care of yourself first then you will be able to help your children.
The same theory applies to parenting. If you are exhausted, worn out, angry, or at your wits end you will not be in good enough shape to take care of your child effectively. As a result you and your child will suffer. But if you take good enough care of yourself you will have the energy, emotional stability, consistency, enthusiasm, and love to be a much more effective parent.
Take Care of Yourself
Take a break from parenting. Because parenting is a 24/7 proposition, you need to establish some resources so you can take a break periodically. Find some good babysitters so you can have some ‘time off’ for yourself without the demands of a child.
Establish a ‘date’ night with your husband or significant other. When my daughter was little, my husband and I established a weekly ‘date night’. My husband’s sister would come to the house, feed my daughter, play with her and put her to bed. She was thrilled to be able to spend time with her niece while we ‘went out’ together. And my daughter always looked forward to spending time with her aunt. It was definitely a win/win situation and a much needed relief from the constant demands of parenting.
If you are married, share the parenting chores. Be kind to each other and take turns with some of the routine tasks like bath time, cooking, helping with homework, driving to activities, spending time with your child. Your child will love spending one on one time with each of you separately when they can ‘have you all to themselves’. Agree ahead of time on ‘sleep in’ days where one of you gets to sleep in while the other gets up and takes care of the kids. Make sure to take turns.
If you are a single parent, it is even more important to get some help so you can have a break. Sometimes there is a visitation schedule in place that will give you some time off when your child visits their other parent. Make sure you take advantage of these times to take care of yourself and rejuvenate. Look for other resources to get some help.
Build a support system. You need a break on a regular basis from you parenting responsibilities. If you don’t, you will get worn out and resentful.
Join or start a babysitting co-op. You babysit for someone else’s child and they babysit for yours another time. This is a free way to get a break from parenting.
Find someone to talk to. A parent can feel very isolated and alone. Just know that this is not uncommon and do something to counter it. Parents you meet at your child’s activities or school can be an excellent resource. When my daughter was a baby I joined a baby massage class at the YMCA. In the class I became friends with two other new moms with babies the same age as mine. Twenty-two years later, I am still in touch with one of these friends.
Join a parent support group. In a Parent Support Group you will meet with other parents, learn from each other, support each other, and help each other locate resources. Look online or call the local Child Guidance Clinic, Family Service Agency, or town Social Service organizations for resources.
Find that a psychotherapist and/or a Parent Coach. If you are like most parents, you learned your parenting skills mostly from being parented by your own parents. You may be doing what your parents did or deliberately rejecting what they did and trying to do it differently. This may or may not be helping you be an effective parent. It can be extremely helpful to have someone you trust explore options for parenting and teach you parenting skills you have never been exposed to.
Get regular exercise. This will keep your body, brain, and immune system in shape and will also help to keep your stress manageable. You might even be able to do this with your child. Even better, get outside in nature and take a walk. It will do wonders for your energy and mood.
Get enough sleep. This is so important and is often difficult when you have a child that does not sleep well. As you help your child improve their sleep, work on your own as well. Tag team with your partner to take turns getting up with the kids so periodically you each get a full night of uninterrupted sleep.
Eat a nutritious and healthy diet. And remember, your child learns from watching and experiencing what you do. When you eat a healthy diet on a regular schedule they will do the same. And you will feel better and have more energy.
Develop a meditation practice. Give yourself the opportunity to calm your brain, quiet the inner chatter, connect with your inner being, and escape from the hustle/bustle of the world and parenting for at least 10 minutes every day. Listen to a meditation CD or subscribe to a daily online meditation.
Have some FUN! Have you noticed how much you work? There is ALWAYS more that needs to be done. This has certainly been true in my life. Kids always need your attention or something done for them. And you run a household, probably have a job or career, and have your own relationships and needs. Make a list of ways to have fun and schedule it into your life.
Get some help. You MUST recharge your own batteries. In order to make time for rejuvenating yourself, get some help. Use shopping services that deliver groceries (for example Instacart.com for favorite stores, or Stop and Shop delivery service is www.PeaPod.com), use a laundry service, get a cleaning service even if it’s only every two weeks. Trade off with other parents and take their kids while they rejuvenate and vice versa. Trust me, they all need it as much as you do and will be glad you suggested it.
Schedule rejuvenation time. What rejuvenates you? Everyone is different. Make your own list. Keep the list handy and add to it every time you think of something else that would rejuvenate you. You may be out of practice as you have probably been totally focused on taking care of everyone else but you for quite some time. A massage, warm bath, or a nice long walk might do wonders for you. Schedule the time on your calendar and do it.
Remember the oxygen mask! Take care of yourself.
I would love to hear your personal experiences with this topic.