You have Mount Foldmore permanently living in your lounge room.
You desperately need to do grocery shopping as there’s nothing more than yoghurt and crackers in the house.
Your diary is packed with school notices and tasks that are way overdue.
6 Small Acts Of Self-Care To Avoid Self Destruction
One child is teething and wants to be on you all the time. The other is going through a ‘look at me’ stage and needs your constant attention.
You put your needs on the second tier and just push through.
You won’t have time for the gym this week (or last week, or the week before now you think of it).
You put off calling your best friend back (she called a week ago, but she’s your bestie, she’ll understand).
A long soak in the bath sounds nice, but you’re needed – right now.
We’ve probably all heard it: self-care is important.
Perhaps we’ve told our friends to look after themselves and take time out when life becomes too much.
How many of us though, actually take our own advice or even understand the absolute necessity of self-care?
The Physical Toll of Parenting
Do you ever feel totally wrecked at the end of the day? You know, when the last child has headed off to snoozeland and you find yourself slumped on the lounge, mindlessly flicking through channels, taking very little notice of what’s on the screen?
All parents can relate to the sheer exhaustion of the relentless feeding, rocking and comforting of an infant, or the worn-down, chased-out feeling of a day spent with a toddler who is challenging their own limits and struggling to make sense of the world.
Perhaps you have answered the hundreds of questions asked by your preschooler each day, only to find that those answers lead to more questions – questions you don’t actually know the answer to!
The exhaustion described by most parents is all encompassing. Researchers from Northwestern University have found that the more empathetic we are as parents, the stronger the physiological destruction is.
Here we are trying to be ‘good parents’, loving, nurturing, supporting and understanding our kids and we are slowly but surely adding to our self destruction!
The study of almost 250 pairs of parents and their adolescent children looked at the idea that while parental empathy can be be beneficial to children, it can take a physiological toll on parents.
The researchers combined blood test results and survey answers to show that while empathetic parents and their children were both better off psychologically, the empathetic parents showed higher levels of inflammatory markers.
Okay. What does that mean?
Essentially, when we are committed to being empathetic to others, our own needs and feelings are pushed aside. This can result in parents who often sacrifice sleep, nutrition and exercise to ensure the needs of their children are met.
So How Can We Avoid Self-Destruction and Still Be a ‘Good’ Parent?
Well, first of all we need to stop thinking of parents as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
As a parent there are going to be days where you create fancy fruit platters with grapes made to look like caterpillars, hang five loads of washing, make home-made play dough and have a picnic at the park.
You will pat yourself on the back at the end of the day and think “yep, nailed it!”
Then there are the other days. The days where no one can find their shoes, you’re late for a doctor’s appointment, pick up take-away on the way home and flick on the television to entertain the kids while you huddle in the corner and try to keep it all together.
Everyone finally falls into bed and you find yourself wondering where it all went wrong and how you will possibly have the strength to do it again tomorrow.
The moral of the story is each day is what it is. Yes, there are choices we can make and approaches we can use that will help us to feel like we’ve nailed it, but sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we will feel like we have failed.
Maybe we weren’t as understanding or patient as we would have like to have been. This doesn’t make us a bad parent. Just someone who had a bad day!
There’s a common saying: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” How true is that?! If we are going to be caring for others, we first must care for ourselves.
Now, I can almost hear you screaming at the screen “but I don’t have time!” and I get it, I truly do. With three small children I often find myself reading suggestions for self care and think “not gonna happen!”
But it can happen. We just need to prioritise ourselves in order to continue giving ourselves to our children. There are around 16 waking hours in a day (give or take, depending on your love of sleep and the wakefulness of your small humans!).
Surely we can squeeze in small things to ensure that we are taking care of ourselves and avoiding the physiological destruction that the researchers at Northwestern University suggested is inevitable for empathetic parents. (I don’t know about you, but physiological destruction does not sound like my cup of tea!)
Here are 6 small acts of self-care you can do today:
#1: Wake Up Well
I never set an alarm. I have no need. Instead, I have three small children who are chirping well before the sun is up most mornings.
For those of us woken each day by a poke in the eye or your name being yelled in your ear, it can be tough to feel like you have started your day well.
But I know if I take just a few minutes for a stretch before climbing out of bed (the kids often join in), my day starts much better.
A friend of mine has to have one coffee before even contemplating making breakfast or playing Lego and says it isn’t even about drinking the coffee, it’s the process of making it which helps her feel ready for the day.
By all means, if you can wake up before your kids – do it! Enjoy the quiet, have a cuppa, take in the sunrise and set your intentions or plans for the day.
But if this sounds like a crazy luxury reserved for celebrities right now, just take what you can get!
#2: Nourish And Fuel Your Engine
How many times have you heard it? You are what you eat! Not everyone loves eating in the morning but will still reach for their kids’ breakfast leftovers or a chocolate bar in an attempt to have something for breakfast.
If you eat breakfast, make it nourishing and healthy. Avoid sugary, processed carbs that have you craving more sugar during the day, and leave you with a sugar crash in the afternoon. If breakfast is your thing, check out Healthy Breakfast Ideas – 13 Delicious Options.
Those mamas who really can’t face more than a cup of tea in the morning, you still need to choose wisely when breaking your fast. Fuel your body with a healthy, nourishing meal and avoid the quick option of take away.
And most of all – make time to sit down and enjoy it. Five minutes of your day spent caring about what you put in your body is a great act of self care.
#3: Ditch Social Media
Social media has become a huge part of our lives and while so many of us are saying “I don’t have time!” we are also often guilty of spending way too much time scrolling social media.
It’s an easy habit to get into. When I was breastfeeding I would take the opportunity to jump on and check what was happening on Facebook.
Sounds like I was doing something for me right?
While there are aspects of social media that can be great, it can also cause our parenting insecurities to skyrocket.
Take a break, even just for one day a week. I replaced Facebook while breastfeeding with reading a book while breastfeeding and found it so much more fulfilling.
#4: Go Outside
Outdoor play has massive benefits for children, and for us parents too! Head to the beach, the park or just your own backyard and get a daily dose of vitamin D.
Feel the fresh air on your skin, listen to the birds, and watch the leaves blowing in the wind. I often take a picnic blanket into our backyard and lay back and watch the kids play. Fun for them and relaxation for me. Win win!
#5: Get Some Exercise
Way too often I have used my kids as an excuse not to exercise, and there have definitely been times (like with an infant and toddler at home) where it has been really hard to make it happen. But, when we do make time for exercise, our body thanks us!
It’s also important to set a good example for our children. Recently I have started practicing yoga and often find myself with three little exercise buddies.
#6: Do Something You Love!
As a parent, it is way too easy to lose who you are. The endless washing, cooking, cleaning, nappy changes and playing takes over and suddenly you forget about doing things just for fun.
Love learning new things? Listen to a podcast!
Is art your passion? Get the paints out for your little one and join them!
Whatever it is that makes you smile, do it!
Time Away is Okay!
These six small acts of self-care are simple things that you can do with your little ones in tow, which is great! But don’t forget that sometimes you need a break. You need time where the only thing you can hear are your own thoughts. Where no one is asking you for food or to play.
I used to think craving this time away made me a ‘bad’ parent, but now I know it is essential. The time away from my children allows me to look after myself, making me a far happier, more present, loving and patient mama when I am with them.
Fill your cup mamas and papas!