By Elizabeth Cobb, LCSW
Do you ever feel like your life revolves around your children - that you spend all day ferrying the kids to appointments, sports practices and play dates? After coming home from work, does your second job begin? Picking up after the kids, making dinner, homework help, bedtime routine, etc. And then when you do get any free time there are PTA meetings, birthday parties, soccer games… the list goes on and on.
So when do you find any time for yourself? Often parents skip time for “self-care.” This is a mistake. It not only affects you negatively, but also your partner and children. I always counsel the parents I work with to take “me time," whether it’s going out to coffee with friends, getting a massage or reading a book. When you, as a parent, take time for yourself, you’ll feel happier and healthier the rest of the time. That means you'll have more to give your children and your partner.
However, many have difficulty with the concept of “me time.” The primary feeling that comes up when I mention time for self-care is guilt. Many parents feel that any spare moment should be spent with and caring for their children. If you strive to be a “super parent” without any regards to your own needs, you will find your emotional gas tank on empty sooner or later. As a parent, when you are sleep deprived, don’t take any personal time and are constantly doing things for others, it leads to stress, anxiety and sometimes depression. Many parents I work with report getting irritable with their children or having fights with their partners.
Often, one parent gets stuck doing more than their fair share of the childcare and housework. This leaves the parent who gets stuck with the extra work feeling resentful. So what’s the solution? Take time to sit down and evaluate who does what in the household. On your list, next to each task put who does what now and what the ideal would be. Balancing home, work and your relationship with your partner will lead to much better self-care. A quick fix is to schedule at least an hour a week for self-care. Make that yoga class a priority. Watch the game with your friends. This often involves negotiation with your partner. Why not give each other time off? Your children will still be there when you get home and you can enjoy being with them more.
A lot of parents tell me that it’s hard to actually relax because they are constantly thinking about all of the household tasks that need to get done. While you can’t banish these thoughts, you can delay them so you can enjoy your day. Try scheduling a time each day just to worry. When those pesky thoughts come up during the day, don’t deny them. Instead, wait until your "worry time," and then let everything out. Sometimes people like to write down their thoughts on a worry time list throughout the day. Taking 30 minutes a day for worry time can help you sleep better too. If worry time alone isn’t enough for you, therapy can be a safe place to express your worries.
Speaking of sleep, it’s a very important part of self-care for parents - especially when your kids are waking you up in the early hours. Try to come up with a routine because going to bed at the same time each night is important. Also, avoid screen time at least an hour before bed. Your bedroom should be a place where your body can relax instead of answering work emails or being plugged into the TV.
Use these self-care tips to enjoy a happier, healthier, more balanced life with your children.
Elizabeth Cobb, LCSW is a founder and lead therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are having problems with work-life balance or making time for yourself as a parent, please visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn how therapy might be able to help.