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Self Care For Parents And Caregivers

  • What does self-care for parents look like?
  • How can I incorporate more self-care into my life?
  • How does my own self-care affect me and my family?

What is Self-Care?

Parenting small children takes a lot of energy.  While making sure their children’s physical and emotional needs are met every day, many parents forget that they need to take care of themselves, too. There is a notion that self-care is selfish, or only for people with money and free time.  But there are many ways that parents and caregivers can tend to themselves; many of which require little time and don’t cost much.  It can be anything that creates joy, relaxation, or helps one disconnect, like:

  • taking a bath
  • spending time listening to music
  • having a phone call with a close friend
  • exercising
  • reading
  • cooking alone
  • doing a hobby

The point is that it happens regularly and it helps you to disconnect from daily life and reconnect with yourself.

Why it Matters

Self-care is often at the bottom of the priority list among all of the other things a parent or caregiver needs to tend to.   But, think about the old adage of  “filling up your own tank,” or the air travel analogy of “putting on your oxygen mask first before helping others.”  There are many reasons why this is important.  By taking care of yourself:

  • you are more likely to be a stable, consistent and engaged caregiver to your child.
  • you model ways of coping, taking care of yourself and following your interests, which they will hopefully develop as they get older.
  • it allows you to grow personally so that when you child leaves the home you have other ways to direct your time and energy
  • show your kids the importance of tending to their relationships (with friends, spouse, etc)
  • you are less likely to get easily irritated or resentful if you have regular time to yourself
  • it can help prevent burnout in all areas of your life.
  • you will feel overall more joy and energy while attending to your daily responsibilities

Check In:

Self-care can mean different things to different people.  Take a look at this chart below and think about which of these reflect your own ideas of self-care.  You can also check the areas you feel you do well and select ones you may want to try.  What else might you add to this list?

Types of Self-CareExamples
  • Set goals and get support to achieve them
  • Connect with friends
  • Plan a date night
  • Cook
  • Learn a new skill
  • Practice an art form 
  • Relax
  • Spend time with animals
  • Take time for lunch
  • Don’t work overtime too much
  • Set boundaries
  • Take vacation
  • Use sick days when needed
  • Get support from colleagues
  • Ask for professional development opportunities
  • Feel safe at home
  • Get regular medical care
  • Exercise/ Do a form of movement you enjoy
  • Cook nourishing foods
  • Get enough sleep
  • Take a walk
  • Avoid too much time on your phone
  • Give and receive affection
  • Take time to reflect
  • Journal
  • Seek therapy
  • Draw/paint
  • Read self-help books
  • Join a support group
  • Practice asking for and receiving help
  • Connect with feelings and emotions
  • Allow yourself to cry and to be joyful
  • Talk with a trusted friend about big emotions
  • Find opportunities to laugh (movies, friendships)
  • Positive self-talk
  • Choose relationships involve mutual support and care
  • Spend time in nature
  • Reflect
  • Meditate
  • Sing/Dance
  • Spend time in ceremony or worship
  • Pray
  • Find a spiritual mentor
  • Volunteer for cause
  • Find a spiritual community

This chart was adapted from the Ogla Phoenix Project:  Healing for Social Change

Connect & Communicate:

Start the Conversation

To carve out time for yourself, you may need to have conversations with other family members, people you live with, colleagues and friends.  Since your decision may impact them, you will want to think through how to approach them carefully. At first it might be difficult to express your feelings and what you need, but remember the importance of tending to yourself.  

If you can find a way to add in some self-care now by adjusting your schedule or saying “no” to other things, then that is the best place to start.  Even just giving yourself 5-10 minutes a day, or an hour once a week to start will help you build the habit.  In some cases, you may actually need help from others in order to make self-care happen. If so, here are a couple things to help support that conversation:

  • Be honest: Express how you are feeling and why you think you need time to yourself. For example, “I have been feeling very down and overwhelmed lately, I think I need to start walking with a friend on the weekends.”
  • Share exactly what you need from the other person.  For example, “I would like to go to the gym three days a week in the morning, can you take over the morning routine on those days?”
  • Make a plan to incorporate your self-care activities on a regular basis and add them to your and your family’s calendar.

The important thing is to set a realistic goal for yourself.  Start small and with whatever you feel you can successfully accomplish given your other responsibilities.

Contact & Collaborate:

Once you have determined ways to incorporate more self-care into your life, look for community organizations, online platforms and personal resources that can help you meet that goal. Below are a few places to start.

  • Check offerings at a local adult school
  • Sign up for an adult sports league through your local Parks and Recreation Department
  • Look for classes online and in-person at a community college
  • Join a local YMCA or other gym
  • Find a buddy to walk or exercise with schedule it on a regular basis
  • Look into free online classes for exercise and set time aside for 15-20 minutes a day
  • Ask your partner for one day off each month to do what you want
  • Do a childcare swap with friends.  You take an afternoon off while someone else watches your child and then you reciprocate.  This is a nice alternative to paying for childcare.

Continue Learning:

There is a lot of information out there about how to incorporate more self-care into you life and the importance of doing so.  Below are some other resources you may find helpful.

Why Parent Happiness Comes First:

Why Your Happiness Matters:

Making Time for Self-Care and Personal Goals as a Parent (podcast)

Self-Care and Parenting (video)

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