Be a Better Parent: Step Away
Taking time away from parenting can make you a better parent. Sounds ironic, but it’s true. Taking a step away from parenting responsibilities gives the body and mind a chance to recharge. And that time spent focusing on your own needs can improve your parenting.
So much changes when you become a parent. You still need to eat, sleep, and most likely earn a living. But when that fragile newborn is placed in your arms they are suddenly the center of your universe.
In those early weeks, our life is on hold as we cocoon with our newborn. We are wired to attend to their needs. In the middle of the night, they need to eat and so we give up our own need for sleep to meet those needs. We juggle learning to parent while trying to resume all the other aspects of our life before baby. As we meet their needs for food, sleep, and dry diapers, it is easy to forget to take care of ourselves.
But prioritizing self-care can make you a better parent. The same sleep, exercise, nutrition, and healthy relationships kids need are just as important for adults. When we attend to our needs – physical needs for exercise and mental needs for healthy social engagement – we improve our state of mind.
And being healthy and happy has a direct effect on our parenting. When we are well-rested and know we have taken care of ourselves, we have the energy and enthusiasm to be our best for our children.
Taking care of ourselves also models well-being for our children. When our children see that we also do things for ourselves – and with other adults – we teach what taking care of ourselves looks like. We can help them recognize their needs for quiet or rest, if they see us recognizing and meeting our own needs for those same things. And we help them learn patience, gratitude, and grace.
If you’ve neglected yourself while caring for your children, you can begin to make a change in your self-care by carving out some time each day just for you. It doesn’t need to be a lot of time. Some days, it may be minutes you capture between scheduled activities. Other days, a whole afternoon can be scheduled “me” time.
When my big kids were young, I belonged to a babysitting co-op that allowed me and other young mothers to share childcare. I would earn hours by watching someone else’s children, which could be redeemed by having someone else watch mine. It was a beautiful barter system that allowed us all time for self-care, without incurring the expense of hiring a babysitter. It gave me an entire afternoon to pursue a hobby, or just sit with a book uninterrupted.
Taking care of ourselves begins with being aware of how we are feeling, both physically and emotionally. Mindfulness helps us see how different stressors affect us. It helps us identify those things that help us cope most effectively. Mindfulness can be as simple as pausing for a deep breath. These few seconds can create space for stress hormone regulators to slow the ‘fight or flight’ response caused by triggers in our environment.
Carve out time for yourself
Find moments of time in your day to focus on your own well-being. In the early weeks of a newborn’s life, new moms are encouraged to sleep when the baby sleeps. As children grow, we are tempted to do that ‘one more thing’ that needs to be done before we take time for ourselves. Make it a habit to find time for yourself. Take turns with your partner so that each of you has one night a week to go out and enjoy a class, engage in a hobby, or just be alone or with friends at the library or coffee shop.
Take up (or resume) a hobby – something you do just for you
Having an activity or two that you do just for you gives you space to be you. Doing something you love, that satisfies and excites, gives you something outside of family life. If that something is a group activity, it has the added benefit of enlarging your circle of support – friends and acquaintances who are there for you. Self-care directed toward group activities can expand your circle of connection and support life-long learning and growing.