What are techniques of sustainable parents to include self-care and to maintain their mental and physical well-being?
Nobody needs to tell me that parenting is more than a full-time job. While I haven’t got children myself, I have worked with children and for parents in a variety of capacities. I worked as a babysitter, an au pair, an afternoon instructor at a primary school and have experience working with children of six months to 13 years.
The way in which parents I worked with were able to maintain their own mental and physical well-being varied a lot from person to person. Of course some factors can increase or decrease the challenges parents face in building sustainable self-care routines. The number, activity level and age of children, whether disabilities are present and the supporting network surrounding that parent are factors that influence the difficulty of building sustainable self-care routines, meaning self-care routines that can be maintained for a long time. On the other side stand a variety of techniques that can help with introducing practices of sustainable parents with a calmer mindset towards childcare and an ultimately improved relationship experience for parents and their children alike.
I am sharing some of the techniques sustainable parents used in their daily lives:
Please don’t roll your eyes now. Most of us know that taking time for ourselves is essential. However, try to be honest: Do you really prioritize self-care on a regular basis? What does that look like for you?
I noticed that parents who planned their self-care time into their calendars and who communicated clearly in an age-appropriate way with their child beforehand, were able to put their plans into action more successfully. Mostly, unless we plan out our goals clearly and realistically, it is difficult to actually reach them. You could even go as far as to use “SMART” goals in setting your self-care goals.
For example, if you would like to introduce regular “me-time” into your schedule you could first look ahead in your calendar and find a slot for your self-care time. Depending on the fullness of your schedule this might be several weeks or even months ahead. To make this something to look forward to, decide how you would like to spend your time with yourself. Anything that makes you feel good and does not harm you long-term works. This can be anything from taking a long leisurely walk, doing something creative or catching up with friends.
When becoming parents imagine how their lives will change after having the baby they often visualize a more ideal picture of life with a baby, than what it ultimately will turn out to be. This is completely normal and part of looking forward to becoming a parent. People who are already parents know that life gets chaotic and that the chore list only seems to grow at times. This is a great opportunity to step back and evaluate the tasks on the to-do list. Which of these items are really necessary, and which ones are an additional bonus that I can take care of afterwards?
Depending on how swamped you feel, this might include items such as tidying up or getting things fixed around the house. Bluntly stated, a good rule of thumb is to determine if the health and safety of any members of the household are in danger if the task is not completed. No? Great, this means that this item is non-essential. Taking care of your mental and physical well-being, such as by taking breaks or getting as close as possible to eight hours of sleep are essential.
Congratulations, you have completed the essentials of every-day life and your children are appropriately taken care of for a while. What’s next? You might be tempted to tackle the laundry or postpone your scheduled “me-time” for another secondary task on your to-do list, but hear me out first: You worked hard to keep this time for yourself, it would be a shame if you did not take advantage of your hard work now. You would not skip out on a promise you made a friend, would you? So why would you skip out on a promise you made yourself?
Why should you be keeping your promises to yourself? If you ignore your promises to yourself regularly, it will get easier and easier to postpone your allotted “me-time”. Over time, postponing it will become a habit. Think about it this way: By not sticking with them, you are telling yourself “My self-care is not as important as the chores on my to-do list”. Try not to postpone your time for self-care by sticking and using the time for, you guessed it, yourself.
Now you are ready to start diving into the activity you have chosen for yourself. Yay! Suddenly your phone rings and it is an acquaintance who wants to catch up. Maybe they tend to drone on for a while, so you settle in to listen, once again. Stop! You are about to lose your precious time that you worked so hard for.
An option is to calmly, but clearly tell them that you don’t have time at the moment. You can then ask whether you could talk another time. By letting other people know that you take your plans seriously, you are giving them the signal that self-care is a priority for you. Over time the people around you will understand and adjust to this need of yours. Perhaps they might even get inspired to take their own plans for themselves more seriously as well.
To be a great parent you might want to stop trying to be a perfect parent. Often we apply stricter rules to ourselves than to others. Maybe for you other parents are doing well even when they don’t sew all of their kids’ costumes themselves or are active members in parent groups. Sadly, we often don’t extend this leniency towards ourselves. Standards are great, but try to not put too much pressure on yourself. Parenting is hard enough without having to constantly run extra miles. Focus on the essentials, anything extra is a bonus.
For example, you can learn to distinguish between essential and bonus tasks by asking yourself: “Would I judge a friend for dropping this task?”. If the answer is “no”, it is probably a bonus task and you can decide whether you take it on, or not. It is alright if you chose not to.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: Most of the time child minding is not shared equally between the partners. Statistically, women still carry a much heavier share of the child minding and house work. In my work as a child minder I have only seldom seen these tasks divided up equally. During a time when most women in the western world work jobs themselves, carrying the lion’s share of most care work at the same time is an unfair reality. This reality is holding many women back in their well-being journey and their professional ambitions.
It is possible to create a fairer division of tasks. A good starting point towards sharing tasks equally is to first get a realistic overview on what the tasks are.
Start by writing down each individual task that needs to be done in order for the household to run smoothly. Then the two partners can sit down together and divvy the tasks up in a way that is fair. You can share cooking and grocery buying duties and decide who is responsible for the cooking on what days, while the other is taking care of the other days. The same goes for bringing the children to school, kindergarten or their afternoon activities, cleaning and all other chores.
Be aware that these changes will take time to implement and to run smoothly. Both sides will have to figure the new situation out in their way. If you are the one who took care of most of these tasks by yourself before, you might have to learn to let go and let your partner find their own way to complete these tasks. Open and clear communication is clear. Discuss what “Done” looks like for each task and try to be open to get issues resolved. If both parties are truly invested in striving towards a more equal distribution of tasks, it will get easier over time.
If you feel like you have a lot of work to do in order to prioritize and make use of self-care strategies, you are not alone. In my work I frequently try to help people with a wide variety of backgrounds, parents or not, in establishing more sustainable self-care routines. It is normal to struggle with building habits, and becoming a person who knows how to set and defend their boundaries. If you would like to learn more about this topic, or need some help with establishing new routines you can reach out to us for shorter 30-minute, or longer 1-hour 1-on-1 sessions or join our upcoming webinar on “Sustainable Parenthood”.