Jan 11, 2010
Self-Care for Parents
All too often, we let life manage us. The kids are fighting; a teacher is asking for a meeting; the dog has run off; deadlines at work are looming; dinner is late; groceries are needed; laundry is piling up; the baby is crying and we're simply exhausted!
As parents, we're caught attending to problems, finding solutions, rushing from one seeming priority to the next, addressing one concern after another. In all the chaos, we frequently lose our own way, because we allow life's stresses and problems to contain and restrain us through a process of reacting and responding – often automatically – to all the situations, needs, demands and crises that invariably arise in our lives.
A fundamental principle in parent coaching is the practice of extreme self-care. At first, this notion sounds laughable. Yeah, right: I'm going to take care of myself in the midst of all the others who demand my time and attention! But, like putting on the oxygen mask before assisting family members in the event of an airplane emergency, parents need to take care of themselves before they can adequately look after their children.
What it is
I admit, that at first blush, it sounds a bit selfish or impractical. As parents – particularly mothers – we're so conditioned to putting the needs of everyone else ahead of our own.
But self-care is more than simply pampering oneself. It's a part of self-realization where parents begin to recognize that they are at the center of their lives – and they can thus control and shape their destiny. This is central to parent coaching.
For example, too often, parents aren't aware of where all their time goes. So one critical tool in practicing self-care is creating an inventory of how your time is spent. This is an invaluable experience, because it allows a parent to see how time may be mismanaged – and it offers the opportunity to get some clarity around her or his priorities. A parent who does an honest assessment of his/her time can begin to re-evaluate what's truly important; after all, parenting shouldn't be relegated to something you do between the 25 other items on your to-do list!
Scheduling time for your own life is vital to practicing extreme self-care and, also, taking control over your life. Too often, parents let their environment or extraneous circumstances, pressures and events control what they do on a daily basis. By adopting a practice of scheduling time for yourself, you put your own life as a priority and bring control back to the most important person in your life.
That's right. Your kids are precious and of vital importance to you. But you are – and must be – central to your own life. This little act of "self-preservation" is not selfish but necessary in order to nurture and nourish your children and others properly. It's the oxygen mask analogy again: You recognize that catching your breath first is the only way to look after others who are important to you.
How it's done
So where do you begin? Start small. Take 15 minutes each day to take time out for yourself. Meditate. Enjoy a glass of wine or cup of tea or coffee uninterrupted. Make that call to an old friend that you've been putting off. Luxuriate in a warm bubble bath. Take a nice walk. Start a journal. Do anything – free of distraction and interruption – that's just for you.
Once you grasp the principle and master some simple self-care practices, the concept of extreme self-care is very uplifting. But it requires a change in attitude – and a commitment to that change. That shift isn't an easy one for any parent to make. As a concept, it makes a lot of sense and it certainly is an easy one, as a parent coach, to espouse.
But as a parent, I recognize that putting self-care into action is quite a challenge! Once you start, however, you'll find it so fulfilling and invigorating, that the results will surely be worth the effort. Don't be surprised if others start asking you what you're doing differently because you look more centered or act more calmly.
By getting our priorities in place and examining "good fuel" sources in our lives that energize us, we are able to capture what's best in our life rather than simply spend life or parent our kids only through responding to all the exigent demands that inevitably creep up.
The practice of self-care is a catalyst for new action and new behaviors. It provides a renewed sense of hope and energy. With the New Year upon us, isn't this the perfect antidote for recharging? To feel in control of your life in a way that will have a lasting impact on how you will lead, manage and live it is the simplest gift of self-care practice.
Self-care is a good and important start for the New Year and the first step to creating a "new" you!