You know when you repeat a term over and over and it loses its meaning? I think “self-care” is one of those that can lose meaning without any repetition. So many women I know when asked how they take care of themselves say, “What’s that?” or, “Who has the time?”
That used to be me, too, and I still struggle with it when life gets stressful. I can see a cold coming a mile away when it’s one of my kids but I’ve just begun to notice the same signs in myself. Maybe it’s because my kids are a little older now, but I’m getting better at taking care of myself. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
So I’m writing this as much for me as for all of you. A reminder of the things we can do so that we are able to show up for the people in our lives who are counting on us:
1. Think of yourself the way you think of your kids
People say, “put yourself on the list”, but I think the way to do that is to actually think of yourself as if you were your own mother. We’re always thinking of what our kids need. Are they eating well? Have they gotten outside today? Are they moving their bodies? Do they need to talk about their feelings? Are they sleeping enough? Do they have enough time with their friends? We can recognize the factors that go into a meltdown. Uh oh, Timmy has been eating junk all weekend and not sleeping, tomorrow is going to be a disaster. The truth is I’m the same and I bet you are, too. If I haven’t been taking care of myself things head south. So it helps to keep on top of it the way we do for kids. Sometimes I think we have to pretend to be our own parent to even be able to see it.
2. Pick one or two items and make them non-negotiable
Self-care doesn’t have to be a manicure or a massage (although those things can be nice). My non-negotiables are sleep and exercise. But if I had a gun to my head and had to pick one thing that keeps me functioning, I would choose sleep. So if life is throwing curve balls and some of the other things are slipping, I still try to make sure I’m getting enough sleep. Obviously, this was harder when our kids weren’t sleeping through the night. If that’s your situation, you might want to pick another non-negotiable until you have a little more control over how many Zs you’re getting each night. The important thing is to make sure you find one or two things that you build into your day that keep you from getting completely run down.
3. Don’t feel you have to join a gym
If you regularly go to a gym that’s great. I have a personal trainer that I see once a week and she’s a lifeline for me. But not everyone can do that. There are any number of reasons it might not be realistic for you (if you have little kids at home, for one). And that’s okay. Gyms aren’t the only way to get exercise. Go for a walk. Bundle up those kids and get outside together. Or join up with an online program like Dai Manuel’s The Whole Life Fitness Manifesto. He sends out free, daily, 15-minute bodyweight exercises that anyone can do without any equipment. You just have to find 15 minutes of time for yourself. And as an added bonus Dai’s program also encourages 5 minutes of mindfulness and 10 minutes of personal development.
4. Call or text your friends
I once realized that I went weeks without speaking to any of my closest friends. You may not have time for hour-long catch up sessions, but a text to say you’re thinking about the person takes no time and will brighten their day (and yours, too). The exchange reminds you that you have people who care about you, the person not the parent, and that’s important. It’s a little boost that might help you be there for your kids and remind you of who you are outside of all your responsibilities.
5. Ask for help
I’ll admit, this is one that I was not really good at when my kids were little, so learn from my mistakes: whoever it is that you need support from, ask them for it. Tell them exactly what you need. Tell your partner what they can do to help you. Ask your family to pop by and spend time with the kids while you get out on your own. Ask for help carpooling kids to activities or to school so that you can sneak in more time for yourself. And when you feel recharged look around and see who might need a little help from you.
We talk about the importance of modeling healthy habits all the time and we know that everything we want our kids to do starts with us, but how seriously do we take that? It’s not always easy to add another person to care for to your list but it’s time to change this culture of depleted parents running on fumes.
I’m stopping this list here so that I can do my 15-minute workout. Otherwise, I’ll miss the window and may not get to it again later. What can you do today to take care of yourself?