Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Are you stressed right now? You’re not alone—since the beginning of the pandemic, parents have been reporting higher levels of stress than usual. You might be overworked or burned out from work-from-home and Zoom-schooling. We’re here to gently remind you that prioritizing self-care is essential, and you need more time to yourself than ever before.
Taking time off as a parent can be difficult, so here are 4 practical ways to help you establish “self-care” as a habit, starting today:
1. Celebrate your strengths
As a parent, you might find that you’re beating yourself up about not being good enough. Don’t forget to take some time to celebrate the things you’ve done well! To practice self-appreciation, take 2 minutes each day to practice a solution-focused reflection: What parenting strengths did you demonstrate today? What went well at home today? When do you typically not feel anxious during the day? When are the times you’re not butting heads with your teen?
Remember, a small win is still a win. For example, if you helped your teen get out of bed to attend online classes and you didn't fight tooth and nail with each other—well, that's a win! (It's also a strength!) Once you identify a few of your own strengths, take a moment to celebrate! This could look like telling yourself “good job” in the mirror or high-fiving your spouse. To take it to the next level, find ways to scheduling solutions you've (as a parent) come up with before. For instance, if you've noticed that you're really good at approaching your teen during breakfast, you can begin to intentionally set that as a time to connect with your teen (in your calendar) and high-five yourself for creating a solution!. Utilizing your strengths daily will leave you feeling confident and cognizant of what solutions work for you.
2. Schedule small amounts of time to yourself
Managing your stress level is vital for your own wellbeing and your loved ones too. Some experts consider stress to be “contagious” because stress can be passed onto family members unknowingly. Put on your oxygen mask first: you can’t help your teen if you don’t help yourself first. To reduce stress, think about when you can take a tiny break today to practice self-care. Be realistic and schedule something small: 1 minute to dance it out in your bedroom, 5 minutes to drink a nice cup of coffee alone, or 10 minutes to soak your feet in an epsom salt bath tonight before bed. Pick something small and set aside a time for this luxurious activity—and remember to look forward to the precious time you carved out for yourself!
You can ensure your boundaries are respected during your self-care break by scheduling the break when your teen is occupied with class and letting your family know ahead of time that you’re taking a few quiet minutes right after dinner or after your last work task. For the forgetful teens, remind them right before your break. These small breaks can leave you feeling refreshed and energized.
3. Set realistic goals for both you and your teen
Sit down for 10 minutes today and brain dump (otherwise known as “cognitive offload”) everything on your family’s plate in the next couple of weeks. Just getting things out of your brain and onto paper or a digital to-do list can bring you a lot of relief. You can even ask your teen to join in on the brain dump: what projects and assignments are coming up? What do you plan to focus on today? Getting a clear picture of what everyone’s schedules look like can help you move forward as a team.
Once you’ve written everything down, sort them in the order of importance and urgency using tools like the Eisenhower matrix. Then, you can set flexible goals each day by starting with the most important and urgent tasks first, instead of following an endless to-do list.
When life inevitably gets in the way of meeting your goals, you can take it as an opportunity to model self-compassion for your teen. Acknowledge what didn’t get completed and the feelings accompanying it. Remind yourself that parents everywhere are experiencing these ups and downs. Lastly, say encouraging words to yourself and recognize what did go well today (which you’ve practiced with tip 1). Being self compassionate allows you to be less critical and more understanding of yourself and others.
4.Take time to enjoy your hobbies
Take time to reconnect with your hobbies! Every parent ends up making trade-offs for their children—exchanging couples salsa classes (or peace of mind for twenty years) for your child’s track meets and football games—but it’s important to remember to be intentional with whom you’re discussing these trade-offs with. Without immediately realizing it, you may be comparing your own experience with your teen’s experience. They might hear you say: “I wish I could take drawing lessons like you can. When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford any extracurricular activities”, “I work until exhaustion every day and you just play video games all day”, “You are so lucky you can talk to your friends anytime”. These remarks will leave you feeling more resentful and could leave your teens feeling confused about whether their hobbies, socialization, and self-care are truly things to value.
If you’re realizing it’s been a while since you’ve engaged in your hobbies, remember it’s never too late to jump back in. Think about your past (childhood) hobbies or a recent activity that caught your eye. This could be taking a painting class, gardening, or starting a new form of exercise. Reserve time in your calendar, find an accountability buddy, and commit verbally to your family about engaging in your new hobby to help you follow through. If you are ever conflicted between personal time and parent responsibilities, remember that you are leading by example. Your teen will learn the importance of taking care of themselves by watching you engage wholeheartedly with an enriching hobby.