One of the best ways to grow a strong, happy, connected family is to take care of your health and well-being.

Self-care is often one of the first things let go as we get caught up in the ongoing responsibilities of parenthood. Forsaking our own needs to continually focus on the needs of others may seem to have little or minimal impact in the short-term. However, longer term implications can have a serious impact on our lives, be detrimental to our health and well-being and often creep up unnoticed.

When you place yourself at or near the bottom of your priority list, you can end up feeling angry, frustrated, resentful, guilty, unappreciated, there’s no time for what’s important, or disconnected from who you truly are.

Left unaddressed, these emotions can wreck havoc in the way we parent our children. Parenting can be difficult enough at times without trying to parent on ‘empty’, with little time, energy, enthusiasm and motivation to consider your own needs – what fills you up and gives you strength emotionally and physically to persevere and draw on your reserves if and when the going gets tough.

The need to look after yourself is often overlooked, but extremely important because a happy mother equals a happy family. If you’re not looking after yourself, how can you expect to take care of and manage your family, career, home, relationships and more?

Here are some tips and ideas on how to find time for, and prioritise, self-care:

20 tips for emotional self-care

  • Take advantage of every opportunity without children around, even if only short periods of time. Use this time just for you, not to catch up on chores and other jobs that can be done later.
  • Identify ideas for self-care by making a wish list of all the things you’d like to do just for you. Write down your passions, interests, desires and dreams- for example reading, exercise, connecting with friends, ‘couple’ time, outdoor recreation, catching up on sleep, music, meditation, studying, joining a group, shopping or pampering yourself with a makeover, manicure, massage or soak in the bath. When it comes to self-care, little changes often make a big difference. Commit to making time for at least one item from your list each day or week.
  • Schedule in regular ‘me’ time and stick to it! Start small and simple, diarising 15-30 minutes (or more) just for you. Don’t be distracted by or feel obligated or pressured to do things you ‘should’ be doing instead.
  • Ask your partner, family member or friend to look after your children so you can have a break, catch up on sleep or re-energise with physical activity. This can be a positive experience for all, with the whole family benefiting.
  • Take turns with your partner getting your children fed or ready for bed at night, or alternate days for sleep-ins on weekends. If possible, sleep in a separate room for one night to enjoy an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
  • Go to bed earlier, if only for one night a week. Turn the TV or computer off, leave chores until morning, relax and unwind in bed. Adequate sleep is important for our overall health and well-being – the housework can wait.
  • Swap babysitting or start up a babysitting club with other parents, both daytime and evenings. If you don’t have friends you could swap with, get to know parents in your neighbourhood – you will probably find they are as eager for ‘me’ or ‘couple’ time as you are!
  • Consider paying a babysitter or nanny if alternative support or childcare is unavailable.
  • Eat healthily and drink plenty of water, especially important when breastfeeding, providing you with energy during the day and preparing you for a good night’s sleep. Try to avoid eating large or heavy meals late at night; have small healthy snacks instead.
  • Avoid any unrealistic expectations, negative self-talk and feeling resentful – you deserve time out to recharge and re-energise. Go easy on yourself, lighten up, and have fun!
  • Remain calm. Rushing around leading a hectic, busy, stressful life often results in chaos, feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope. If you’re stressed-out, exhausted, angry or frustrated, it’s important to try to remain calm and in-control.
  • Have an ‘at home’ or ‘down’ day if you’ve had a busy week, sleepless nights or are finding it difficult to cope.
  • Practise slow, deep breathing or use similar relaxation techniques and coping mechanisms, or take some time out to unwind. Keeping a clear head, speaking calmly or using distraction can help overcome a difficult situation.
  • It can be helpful to talk with a friend, family member or trained professional – you’ll most probably feel relieved to know you’re not alone. Remember it’s okay to ask for help.
  • Recognise the signs and symptoms of post-natal depression or sleep-deprivation early on and take action before it becomes a major problem or leads to serious illness. Talk with other mums about how they cope with these or other issues. Seek medical or professional advice if you have any concerns.
  • When you indulge in self-care, enjoy the moment instead of feeling guilty or distracted by thoughts of returning to family responsibilities.

If you have pre-school children at home:

  • Get them involved in an activity, then take 10 minutes to relax, unwind and enjoy some well-deserved down-time. Whether it’s enjoying a quiet cuppa, flicking through a magazine, or catching up with friends on Facebook!
  • Relax in the bath while your child plays with toys or books in their highchair or pram alongside you (remember: never leave your children unattended around water).
  • Exercise, especially yoga, can be a wonderful way to destress and focus on yourself. If you’re considering joining a gym, sports club or recreational centre, choose one that provides childcare facilities.
  • Meditation is another powerful tool you can easily bring into your everyday. The breathing, quietening of the mind and self-reflection that comes from meditating can bring you an amazing amount of energy. Start slow, aim for just 5 minutes of deep, relaxing breathing in a quiet space. Build this up to 15-20 minutes over about 6 months. Work meditation in around nap times, or after the kids go down, or set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier and start the day on a great note.

It’s important to be realistic about self-care; don’t take on too much, especially with a new baby. Keep life as simple as possible, limit well-meaning visitors and postpone appointments that can wait.

When we prioritise time for self-care and our well-being, we’re being healthy parents, physically, psychologically and emotionally, and great role models for our children.

Some useful articles and resources

Find more useful information on self-care and ‘me’ time in Motherhood and Keeping SafeHow to be a Fun Mum and Happiness is a Reciprocal Thing.

If you’re looking to find clarity and perspective, and work on reaching your potential in life, you may want to check out the Manifestation Miracle.

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Karyn Riley is a time management and life balance coach, author of “How to Keep the YOU in Mum”, inspirational speaker, writer and mother of two. For more information see www.rileylife.co.nz

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