I have been working in counseling with parents and adults for many years. Usually in my first therapy meeting with a parent, after I have heard what is going on at home with their children, I end the session by asking the question, “what do you do to take care of yourself?” At first, I am often met with wide eyes filled with shock and then the eyes soften and the person responds with, “there is no time left for me.” I spend a lot of time as a parenting consultant working with parents to help them see that parents are people too, and not only is it OK to take care of themselves, it is a necessity in the recipe for making a healthy parent.
- Start small. Sometimes we equate taking care of ourselves with activities that require a lot of time. The thought of taking time out of a really busy day to add in an exercise class just feels too overwhelming, if not impossible. I say, “start small.” Where can you incorporate small things throughout your day that add something nice for you? Maybe it’s that piece of dark chocolate that you will have once all the munchkins are in bed. Or maybe you decide to purchase those really nice slippers you have been eyeing to put on your feet after work but haven’t purchased because your kids have grown out of their shoes yet again. Think of ways to incorporate small niceties throughout your day.
- What are you looking forward to? This is a question I ask all my clients. When people do not have anything positive on the horizon, we don’t have that oasis to look forward to. Being a parent is a hard job, rewarding but hard. As we ask every night at dinner in our house, “what is your bud?” (what are you looking forward to?). This helps all of us see that there is something bright in our future. Remember, this can be big or small.
- When is the last time you have gone out? If I am working with a set of parents, I usually inquire when they had their last date. Many times, parents cannot remember. Being a parent can mean you are part of a couple, and taking care of the parenting partnership often means “date night.” If I am working with a single parent, I phrase the question as, “when was the last time you went out with friends?” It is fun and restorative to be out among the living without your kids.
- You can have it all, just not at the same time. My best friend in college’s mom told us that before we graduated. These are words to live by in my book. Parents are often trying to juggle so much that the last person to get any priority is the parent. The goal should be balance. If your child had to be the priority that day and there wasn’t an ounce of time leftover for your needs, then make yourself the priority soon after to keep the scales balanced.
- It’s not only OK to take care of yourself, it’s essential. If negative thoughts creep into your head about taking care of yourself, replace them with positive ones. Sometimes when we have chosen to do something nice for ourselves, we think negative thoughts and tell ourselves we shouldn’t be doing it. When you are doing something nice, tell yourself that it is the right thing to do and enjoy it. It will make you a happier parent.
Molly Mattison, MSW, LICSW–Parenting Expert & Adult Therapist