Having children is probably the most rewarding, yet demanding experience one can go through. Being a parent is certainly a rollercoaster of mixed emotions! From the positive feelings when your child speaks their first words, falls asleep in your arms, makes their first steps, starts school, smothers you with hugs and “I love yous”, to the daily stress and battles that can occur… Ironing uniforms, packing lunch boxes, driving them around, sibling bickering, after school meltdowns, battles to get out the door, to sleep, to eat, making sure you are not being too hard, too soft, not giving too much screen time but not wanting them to be left behind. At times it can feel like an exhausting ride! Especially now, with the current COVID-19 outbreak and most of Australia in lockdown, parenting can feel more exhausting than ever.
As parents, our first and primary concern is our children. Since they were born, everything we do is either directly for our children, or done with our children in mind. Of course, putting our children first is important, but often as parents, we can completely forget about our own wellbeing and needs as we are entirely focused on their wellbeing.
It’s like that announcement made on a plane while the crew are demonstrating the safety procedures. “In the case of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will fall from above your head. Please attach your own mask before helping children or those travelling with you.” This is important in this scenario, but it is just as applicable to our everyday lives as parents. Unless we attach our own oxygen masks and prioritize time to ‘fill our cups’ (as I like to say) we cannot keep sustainably doing the hard work it takes to grow the healthy brains of the next generation.
Today we’re going to discuss the importance of self-care as a parent and how looking after yourself can have a significantly positive impact on the lives of your children, your partner and yourself. Prioritising our self-care is our greatest responsibility – to keep our cups full enough to do the necessary parenting work to help our children grow better brains.
What counts as self-care?
Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook. Self-care activities don’t have to be big tasks like going for a 5 kilometer run, or meditating for an hour. They can be anything from listening to your favourite song, taking a moment to breathe and refocus, writing down or thinking of 3 things you are grateful for that day, or making the effort to schedule some time for yourself. I actually schedule self-care appointments throughout the week in my calendar, just like I do with my client sessions – then I have committed to fill my cup time!
In a society that seems to wear exhaustion and busyness as a badge of honour, it can be a radical idea to commit to growing and nurturing yourself. Indulging in self-care isn’t selfish at all, but essential! By putting on our oxygen masks first and making time for ourselves, we can help and support those around us so much more than if we were scrambling around with no oxygen, no energy, and no capacity. We also increase our tolerance for stress, become better at setting healthy boundaries, rewire our brains through mindful practices to become more integrated, empathic, creative and calm. The role modelling of ‘radical self-care’ for this next generation teaches our children how to live healthier lives by taking responsibility for creating better mental, physical and emotional health.
Why is self-care important?
As parents, we play an integral role in supporting our children to regulate their emotions, provide the physiological nervous system template for their later functioning and ability to handle stress, and literally build their brains through the relationship and inputs we provide. That can be very emotionally and mentally demanding for us as parents. If we don’t take the time to recharge our batteries, get support for our own past and trauma histories, meet our own needs, or recognise and regulate our own emotions, then we can’t be at our best for our children. To be a patient, empathic, caring, and loving parent we need to take time to love and care for ourselves.
How is self-care beneficial for parenting?
By taking one step toward better self-care as a parent, you’ll soon recognise how beneficial that small change can be for your physical and mental state, as well as the mental wellbeing of your children (who mirror off our own emotional states!). One of the main benefits for our children, when we practice self-care, is that by modelling healthy behaviour we are teaching our children that it’s important to prioritise self-care. This can teach them that things like healthy eating, self-reflection, mindfulness, emotional intelligence, exercise, and healthy relationships are important and beneficial for overall health. We all know that the best way to teach our children something is by leading by example, so why should self-care be any different?
The first step is allowing yourself permission to start making self-care a priority. What could you do today to practice self-care? Some peace and quiet? Time to yourself? Reading a book? Listening to music? Going for a walk?
Take a minute now to recognise what you need today and give yourself permission to take the first step toward more self-care.
A month of self-care activities – The celebration of YOU month
We thought what better way to get started with a step towards more self-care than with a month of self-care activities! We have designed a template for you that you can download here: Self Care Activity Planner – weekly
These activities could be anything such as:
Journalling, starting the day with positive affirmations, keeping a gratitude list (or using an app), listening to music, having a bath, having a shower, make yourself a nice drink, watching a tv program/film, doing some colouring, doing a word search or puzzle, listening to a podcast, planning a one on one date with your child, spending time in the garden, dancing around the house, doing yoga and deep breathing, burning a candle, speaking to your friends, speaking to your family, or doing a mindfulness meditation.
These self-care activities can take as little or as much time as you would like, but let’s try to do at least two a day (morning and night), even if it only takes 2-5 minutes.
Tony and I we have been incorporating self-care as part of our crazy busy lives so much more this year. We have resourced ourselves physically by spending daily time rocking gently in our egg chair (this is a very powerful calmer for the brainstem and nervous system).
We have also used the weighted blanket on our bed which has assisted with helping me shut down my racing brain and nervous system at night and have a restful sleep.
I have been practicing daily mindfulness meditation – sometimes just for 5 minutes in the morning or a few times throughout the day if I get the chance. There are lots of great meditations for free on youtube and this year I plan to create some self-care ones of my own to share with you all!
I make sure I start the day looking after my health with my supplements for better brain and emotional health and a green smoothie packed with protein powder to give me the energy I need to keep firing! I also include probiotics as part of my daily routine for better gut health (which is also linked to our mental functioning via the vagus nerve – more on that in another post).
Tony and I have also committed to two screen-free nights per week where we can have lounge dinner picnics and spend some time talking, reflecting and planning and maybe even exchanging foot massages (without constant interruptions) LOL!
I have a free app on my phone called Gratitude where you can list the positive highlights of the day and reflect on those things that you felt grateful for. You can also add photos so it creates a visual diary and reflection of the year. Very cool!
Prioritising the space for pauses allows us to become more present, connected, creative, reflective and mindful and we are also offering a healthier more sustainable model of functioning to our children. We hope that you can do the same! Let us know in the comments and on social media how you go!
Working Together We Can Build Better Brains!