By Rachel Welch
The new year of 2022 has arrived, and brought with it new adventures, goals, and challenges. For many families, the concept of “normal” has taken on an entirely new meaning ever since COVID-19 impacted the world. Parents have tackled the chaos of virtual learning, the challenge of keeping the family healthy, entertained, safe, and secure, and have carried a lot on their plates. They still do! COVID-19 continues to change, and has stubbornly refused to go away. Therefore, families have been forced to continue to adapt and evolve.
With the fresh start of a new year, it is an excellent time to examine your goals as individuals, and as parents. Maybe you have a new year's resolution to drink more water. That’s wonderful! I now ask you to add on a resolution of filling your metaphorical cup with water, in the form of self-care. Remember, when you spend your life pouring into others, eventually your cup is going to run dry. Let’s explore some tips to help keep your parental cups full, so that you have enough happy hydration for everyone!
To all the amazing and resilient parents out there, we are glad to bring you some self-care tips for the new year of 2022, and beyond.
There seems to be a common trend in society that when people become parents, they cease to prioritize themselves. This can lead to burnout, frustration, and in some cases, a loss of identity. This potential “identity crisis” has been studied and explored since the 1970’s, where individuals explore why they feel a painful loss of identity. Mothers in general seem to be at the highest risk for this phenomenon (thanks, social pressures!) (1)
The stigma is that if a parent puts themselves first, they are considered to be selfish. This all contributes to a highly unhealthy, and frankly toxic social norm. We have seen a troubling trend for generations of parents—women in particular—who lose themselves in parental roles. They may struggle to make time for their interests, their passions, or their mental and physical health (2). As you can imagine, a burnt-out and overly frustrated parent with an “empty cup” is not going to be or feel as successful as a parent who has something left in their cup to pour.
This brings us to the fundamental importance of parents prioritizing parents! Parents deserve self-care too. If we (parents or not) fail to care for ourselves, we are rendered unable to care for anyone else. Self-care starts with the self, and trickles out to your loved ones.
Self-Care is NOT Selfish
The words in bold say it all. Self-care is not selfish. Are birds who hunt for earthworms selfish? Are babies who cry when hungry selfish? Of course not! Birds and babies do those things because it’s necessary to their survival. The same is true for parents who pursue self-care. If you think that you are a selfish parent for putting yourself as a priority, please erase that thought. Instead, focus on self-care as not a luxury, but a necessity for survival. Perhaps one thing that will help in this goal, is to understand which things can qualify as self-care.
There are plenty of articles, sources, and influencers who list out self-care examples that are really more self-pampering. Bubble baths, lighting candles, indulging in treats, and sleeping all day have all been touted as appealing self-care options. While these are versions of self-care that can certainly be useful, they by no means cover the vastness of what self-care can and should be. In many cases, self-care is much more fundamental.
Busy parents, in particular, can fall into the rut of not caring for their physical health as they would have before they had children. Maybe this is due to crazy schedules or sleepless nights with a young one. Whatever the case, parents need to prioritize some physical self-care! This does not necessarily mean taking a fancy bubble bath. (Many parents likely would scoff at such a suggestion amidst their busy lives). Physical self-care can be as simple as:
None of those items would qualify as particularly “luxurious,” and yet all of them are essential. Without fundamental, physical self-care in place, you can become ill, and then you’re unable to care for anyone! Always prioritize your physical self-care fundamentals.
Now, maybe you’ve already mastered a healthy balance of the fundamental self-care, and want something a bit more special to break up the days and add some joy. It’s important to remember that self-care is a spectrum, and we will all need a different part of the spectrum at different times! There is no shame in sometimes wanting a more pampering form of self-care.
If that sounds like you, here are some more luxurious options for physical self-care. Hint to any children who may be reading: You may want to save some of these for mother’s and father’s day gift ideas!
Physical self-care, whether basic or luxurious, is crucial and should be a priority.
As parents, your mental and psychological health has a massive impact on you, your household, and specifically your children. If you are stressed and out of control, children are going to notice and absorb that. This is why it is of the utmost importance that you prioritize your mental health. If you are not mentally healthy, you will not be able to lead and parent in a mentally healthy way.
Again, we can compare and contrast the fundamentals with the luxurious forms of self-care. Starting with the fundamentals, mental and psychological self-care may look like:
Very often, our mental health varies with the ups and downs of life. Even the most mentally healthy people have to do occasional self-check-ins to come back from stress to a place of peace. In these moments, it is important to have a tool box of solutions to help keep things centered and calm. Work on building a tool box for strengthening your mental health. Try deep breaths, the guidance of a trained professional, rest, and an intentionally positive inner dialogue. Remember that there is an abundance of research to support the calming powers of the breath (4). You have to breathe anyway, right? In chaotic moments, taking even one second (or millisecond) to focus on a deeper breath can help to calm things down and restore some peace.
Now, on to the luxurious options. If you feel like your mental self-care base is sturdy, and you’re ready for some fancy-pants treats for the mind, look no further than:
Sometimes, what we need for mental self-care is a little bit of fun. If your fundamentals are well-covered, then go and have a blast! Whatever is fun for you, dive on in!
Another thing that parents may miss out on when they neglect their self-care is social activities.
Humans, whether extroverts or introverts, tend not to do so well when they lack social interaction. Social isolation has even been tied to health issues that rival those of smoking and obesity. Apparently loneliness can lead to increased risk of dementia, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. It can also lead to a higher risk of other health issues like increased hospitalization, emergency room visits, and even death (3). Yikes.
For all of these reasons, social self-care is another important variety to prioritize. Now, many parents may not be physically “alone,” if they’re with their children. However, interacting with an infant or toddler is hardly an advanced social relationship. So, to implement some social self-care, you might consider:
What if the self-care you need is to get away from all things social? Maybe you are a parent who is sick and tired of neighborhood associations, PTA boards, and community meetings. If that’s your need, then by all means cater your self-care toolbox to suit your needs! Refer back to the physical and mental self-care sections and pick an activity that can get you away from it all. Some parents (especially those who were introverts before they were mommy or daddy), may just need some time alone. There is no shame in that! Remember that the goal of self-care is not selfish, self-care is necessary for survival.
Self-Care in the New Year and Beyond
With this new year some families have made new goals, and some families have maintained the same goal, which is to just get through the days one at a time, and as successfully as possible. To all of our remarkable parents, please remember to prioritize your self-care. Fill up your cup with gentle support and love, so that you have some left to pour into your loved ones.
Self-care does not have to be fancy to be effective. Sometimes, self-care is fundamental. Just like you care for the needs of your children, you should care for your fundamentals, and remember that self-care is not selfish. Self-care is the key to balance and fulfillment.
Your New, New Year’s Resolution!
Create a customized self-care toolbox with your favorite fundamental and luxurious forms! Change up your tools as much and as often as you need to, and remember that self-care can save your ability to serve the ones that you love.
It’s not selfish, it’s self-preservation.