What is Self-Care?

Parenting 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 your 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)

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? (adapted from the Ogla Phoenix Project:  Healing for Social Change)

Personal

  • 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

Professional

  • 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

Physical

  • Feel safe at home
  • Get regular medical care
  • Exercise
  • Cook nourishing foods
  • Get enough sleep
  • Take a walk
  • Avoid too much time on your phone
  • Give and receive affection

Psychological

  • Take time to reflect
  • Journal
  • Seek therapy
  • Draw/paint
  • Read self-help books
  • Join a support group
  • Practice asking for and receiving help

Emotional

  • 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 that involve mutual support and care

Spiritual

  • 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

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 of 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?”

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. 

Activities

Here are some activities to try.  This, in addition to the chart above, maybe a good place to start.  Remember that self-care is something that adds up like money in a bank.  Even 5-10 minutes of self-care on a regular basis can lead to feeling better physically, emotionally, and mentally. If you are just starting out with this, take it slow and add time and frequency gradually. 

  • Join a team sport
  • Get a massage
  • Take walks
  • Sit down and listen to music
  • Spend the night on your own somewhere (camping, retreat center, friend’s house)
  • Engage in play
  • Staycation to a local place
  • Detox/cleanse with a guided professional
  • Coffee with a friend (or by yourself!)
  • Cook alone
  • Early to bed and early to rise
  • Read
  • Manicure/pedicure
  • Phone call with an old friend
  • Bath or hot tub
  • Listen to audiobooks

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 another gym
  • Find a buddy to walk or exercise with the schedule it on a regular basis

Explore these resources to learn more about how you can support self-care. 

Social Emotional Learning

Responsible Decision Making

How can I help my child . . .

  • recognize and handle peer pressure
  • make safe, healthy, responsible choices
Social Emotional Learning

Self-Management

How can I help my child . . .

  • get/stay organized and manage their time responsibly?
  • take initiative and develop independence?, (communicate problems and ask for what they need, stay organized, and set and reach goals)
  • be responsible and reliable?
  • better manage stress and strong emotions?
Social Emotional Learning

Social Awareness

How can I help my child . . . 

  • recognize others’ emotions and develop empathy?
  • be aware of their own impact on others?
  • be open to and accepting of differences?