By Mary Pulido, Ph.D.
Parenting is the biggest responsibility you will ever undertake as an adult. Why didn’t someone tell you it would sometimes mean you’d feel old before your time, exhausted by 7:00 p.m., too stressed out to think straight—and you still have to help your kid with his homework?
Don’t stress your own stress. Plenty of parents feel just like you do. The key to surviving and thriving is taking care of yourself. As they say on the airplane, put your own oxygen mask on first, then assist your children. Too often, self-care for parents is the first thing we let go of. So, here are a few tips to help you keep your calm, balance the competing priorities in your life, and feel energized.
1. Make time for “me” time. This means taking time to care for yourself both physically and emotionally. Find even a few minutes every day to exercise, read, nap, or work on a special project to recharge your batteries. Your role as a parent can be overwhelming. Sometimes just having an hour to go to the gym or walk outside can lift your spirits and can change your perspective. And simply having a cup of coffee with a friend can help you unwind.
2. Cut yourself some slack. There may be days where you get everything done on your to do list. But some days (maybe even most days), everything that you planned to do falls by the wayside. It’s okay to leave the laundry for another day, or skip the vacuuming, especially after a long work week. This is particularly true for new parents, who find their routines turned upside down. Abolish the word “guilt” from your vocabulary. Instead, think about all of the wonderful things you do for your child each day.
3. Shore up your support system and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many parents are unused to asking for help. Sometimes we think, “I should be able to manage this infant/child on my own.” But often, the people around us are happy to help out. If they don’t ask, make your needs known, to your spouse, significant other, friend, or neighbor. You’ll be surprised how many of them will jump at the chance to watch a baby while Mom or Dad runs to the grocery store.
4. Get the sleep and nutrition you need. Sleep deprivation makes all problems loom large. Health experts recommend at least seven hours a night, but this is probably challenging if you’re the parent of an infant or small child. Grab sleep when you can—naps revitalize too. Also, remember to eat healthy meals; you’ll feel more energized. Pack a nutritious lunch for work the night before so you’re not depending on fast food.
5. Accept that on some days, parenting will be challenging. If the baby won’t stop crying and you are exhausted and feel like crying too, put the baby in a safe and secure place and leave the room for a few minutes. As long as you’re sure it’s not a medical emergency, the baby will stop crying— truly, she will.
Your older children may simply not listen to you at all or break the rules you’ve established. The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children encourages the use of effective discipline techniques with children. Discipline is more effective and more nurturing when parents know how to set and enforce limits and when they encourage appropriate behaviors based on their child’s age and level of development. To be effective, discipline needs to be consistent, perceived as “fair” by the child, age-appropriate, and should teach the child how to act in the future.
6. Make friends with other parents. It’s good to have other parents to commiserate with, as well as share the happy stories about your children. It also helps to break the isolation that new parents can feel as their old lifestyle disappears with their new 24-hour responsibility as a parent. Set up a regular get together and perhaps a time to watch each other’s children, too.
7. Make time for your spouse or partner. Just as you need to make time for your children, you need to make time for your parenting partner. Nurture this relationship too. Date nights should be scheduled—or any time that works for you both. Hire a sitter. Spend time talking to each other, about each other! Keeping the bond strong will benefit your entire family in the long run. On the flip side, if you are single, try not to depend on your children for your emotional needs or companionship; children simply do not have that capacity to act as substitute partners. It’s best to seek out other adults.
8. Have an emergency support plan. If you think you are going to “lose it” and find yourself getting angry or frustrated with your baby or child, reach out for help. Ask your spouse, friend, or neighbor to take care of him while you regroup. If you think you are depressed, and it’s quite common, talk to your doctor about what can help. The demands of parenting can be fierce and draining, but they pass. Call the parent helpline at 1-800- CHILDREN (1-800-244-5373) or the National Parent Helpline at 855-4A-PARENT.
Photograph by Joshua Earle via Unsplash.com