If your children are young you’ve probably got routines for everything. Sleeping, eating, pooping, cleaning, dressing, toilet training, bathing, comforting, soothing. As they get older add in soothing boo boos, being a taxi service, school volunteering, reasoning, disciplining, medical & dental care, socialisation, birthday parties, family time, formal education, sporting commitments … the list is endless.
The commitment you take on financially, socially, emotionally, physically and psychologically is positively astronomical! Day after day, week after week, year after year. And when you have multiple children you can multiply the load you carry. Add in children with special needs and the feelings of overwhelm can skyrocket!
If that’s not enough, you get bombarded multiple times a day by unsolicited opinions about how you “should” be doing things. From family, friends, acquaintances, school parents, sporting parents, teachers, doctors, other professionals … even the media.
Is it any wonder most parents feel like they’re heads will explode any minute!
But you keep going, putting one foot in front of the other, because you made a very strong commitment to those little people you gave birth to. You love them, no matter what, and you would go to the ends of the earth for them, even if it meant to go without ourself. Right? (I can hear the chorus of “yeses” from here!)
Most parents know that all learning experiences begin with babies exploring the world around them. They respond to energy; angry vibes, sad vibes, happy vibes. They learn by watching. As they grow, if we get angry, so do they. If we allow others to treat us disrespectfully, so do they. If we fail to care for ourselves, so do they.
For this reason, literally and figuratively, the greatest gift you can give your children, is a parent who takes care of him or herself.
When you prioritise your own self-care they learn,
· That you are worth being taken care of,
· That they are worth being taken care of. Simply from watching your example, they know that allowing others to treat them disrespectfully is hurtful, and they are much less likely to allow themselves to be taken advantage of,
· The value of boundaries,
· The value of waiting,
· To stand up for themselves,
· To listen to their heartsong.
They also receive a much more peaceful, loving and happy environment to live in. Simply because you will be much more peaceful, loving and happy to be around. And since they pick up and reflect your vibes, they in turn will be much more peaceful, loving and happy. It really is a win-win for everyone.
The core message here is this: Self-care is not selfish. It is essential!
Now that you have the message, you may be wondering how you start the process of taking care of you, especially if you haven’t done it in years. The greatest tip I can give you is to start small, take it slow and build it up gradually. If you haven’t done it in so long that you forgot how, it will likely feel foreign to you for a while. And if your kids aren’t used to seeing you do it, you might get some objections to it (especially if it takes attention away from them). You need to be able to prepare yourself for those objections and plan how you can deal with some of the emotions that come up as a result (guilt being a big one). If you feel bad about taking time out for you, consider talking with a trusted friend or counsellor/psychologist to help you process some of those emotions.
To begin with, you might try some of these strategies:
1. Schedule some time for yourself on a daily basis. If you’re not used to taking it, start with just 5 minutes of uninterrupted time and build up from there. If you start small it will be easier to fit into your schedule and it won’t feel so alien.
2. As you build up the time, try exploring new things. Places, activities. Experiment with what you do and don’t like (only one way to find out!)
3. Remind yourself regularly why you are doing this. By taking time out for you, you’re not depriving them of your attention. You are ultimately providing your kids with a better parent.
4. Get in touch with your values. Values underpin everything we do, so getting clear on them will help support your position.
5. Self-care doesn’t need to be expensive. It can be as simple as sitting in the park communing with nature or going for a 10 minute walk to clear your head.
6. Schedule play dates with other mum’s in your area. By setting up a “club”, the kids get to work on their social skills and you get some time out. Rotate this routine so you each get a break. And remember, sometimes the self-care comes down to adult conversation. The kids can play while the adults work on their social skills!
7. Remind yourself that you don’t have to do it all. The old adage, “it takes a village to raise a child” is true. Call on the support of the people around you. And if you feel isolated, try reaching out to local services. Some will have play groups or support groups where you can meet other parents and create friendships. This is especially important if you have kids with special needs. Carers organisations can be particularly helpful in this case. There is one in every state of Australia.
Ali Bengough is currently studying her Masters degree in Applied Psychology at the University of Queensland. She has been working as a counsellor for ten years and loves what she does. She is passionate about helping people find their purpose and overcome the barriers that hold them back from living their dreams. She blogs over at The Mindset Effect, where she writes about anything related to the way we think and feel. This is complimented by a Facebook page and Twitter account. She loves to hear from her readers and welcomes feedback on what they would value reading about. When she graduates, Ali plans to use her blog to launch her business, creating a comprehensive site offering a variety of individual sessions, group workshops, online programs and other resources. She is currently in the process of writing her first book; a small, easy to understand guide on how to stop taking on issues that belong to other people.