Parents, Remember to Take Care of Yourselves :)
Yes, we are parents, and our goal is to love and care for our children to the best of our abilities. But so often we forget that in order to do that, we need to take care of ourselves! This essay is less about parenting, and more about YOU.
Make lists. Sometimes parenting can feel overwhelming. It is helpful to break down what you need to accomplish into lists. I suggest making three lists. One list is what you absolutely must accomplish today. The second list is what can wait, but still needs to be accomplished within a week or two. The third list contains your long-term goals. Organizing your tasks into lists helps organize them in your mind, makes them appear less daunting and overwhelming, and the best part – provides a sense of accomplishment when you can cross them off!
Accept help. Ask for help. Sometimes parents decline offers for help because they do not want to appear as though they do not have it all together. Get over this thought! If someone offers to drive your child to an event, accept the help! It does not mean that you are any less interested in your child or less organized, or whatever thought you might be telling yourself that is preventing you from accepting help. For many, it is even more difficult to ASK for help. When you feel yourself inclined to decline help or reluctant to ask for help, think about what thoughts you are having. Likely, they are thoughts of self-judgment. Accepting and asking for help does not make you any less of the strong, loving parent you are. On the contrary, recognizing when you could benefit from help is a strength. It may be helpful to remember that we cannot truly give of ourselves to others without judgment if we cannot receive help without judging ourselves.
Get hugs. Hugs are a form of non-verbal communication of care and compassion. Hugs strengthen connections. Hugs send the message, “I love you”, “I care about you”, “You are not alone”, “I know this is hard”. With touch, we feel more connected, more understood. Hugs come with a physiological response to stress. Physical contact has been demonstrated to increase oxytocin. Oxytocin reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and improves mood. People who hug often and receive warm physical contact have the highest levels of oxytocin. So hug away. And if you are looking for a creative, silly way to incorporate hugs into your family relationships, create a hug jar http://drpeggydelong.com/the-hug-jar/
Be/do for others what you want/need from others. If you are feeling lonely and would like some attention, give attention. If you are in need of a friend, be a friend. If you want a hug, give a hug. If you want/need love, give love. When we give what we want/need to others, paradoxically, we receive.
Be kind to yourself when dealing with guilt. Guilt can serve a positive function to keep us on our toes and help us to give our best effort. But guilt is counterproductive when it leads to feelings of self-doubt, and constant self-criticism and self-judgment. It is natural for parents to experience some guilt. We want to do the best for our children and for them to be happy. To help cope with guilt, remind yourself that it is not healthy to try to make sure that your child is ALWAYS happy. This will deprive your child of developing his or her own coping skills. Also, when experiencing guilt, you can ask yourself a few questions.
- Did you try hard? If the answer is yes, make a conscious effort to let the guilt GO! If the answer is no, this uncomfortable feeling can serve as a motivator to deal with the issue differently next time, or to serve as a motivator to seek any help that you may need now.
- Was your heart in the right place? If so, let it GO! We cannot always control outcomes, even with our very best intentions.
- Is the situation out of your control? We often have guilty feelings for situations that are completely out of our control. This is sometimes the case when parents are temporarily or chronically ill. In addition to feeling crummy due to being ill, parents add unnecessary guilt to the feeling crummy by all of the things that they THINK they should be doing. If the situation is out of your control, let it GO! If it is uncomfortable yet within your control, acknowledge the guilt, let it serve as a motivator to address the problem, make a list of simple ideas to address the problem, act on them, and let it GO!
Friends! It is so important to have social outlets and experience deep connection with other men and women. Fostering friendships can be difficult when we are busy raising children and taking care of the home. But it is so important to create the time and energy for friendships. Friends listen, empathize, provide comfort, and show compassion. We need opportunities to express ourselves, to share our thoughts, concerns, frustrations, and to laugh! Men and women sharing and expressing themselves with others produces oxytocin, resulting in reduced stress and improved mood. So if you already have close friends, make TIME for them. If you do not have the friend support you would like, you could begin to address this by joining a local moms group, book club, church group, local women’s group or men’s group, or sport.
Share experiences with others with common interest or concern. Parenting is challenging enough, but when we have a child with special needs, or are struggling with an issue or concern, it can be helpful to be a part of a group. This provides the opportunity to seek and share ideas, resources, and information. This also provides the opportunity to receive support from others who share a common issue, concern, or perspective. This group may or may not include your close friends, as this group provides a different kind of support.
Seek professional help if necessary. Sometimes, people view seeking professional help as a sign of weakness, when it really is a strength. Truly, it is a strength to acknowledge that help is needed, and then to seek that help. This is another time when self-judgment can prevent you from obtaining the help you need and being more fulfilled in parenting. So if your child is struggling with academics and homework is affecting your relationship, find a tutor. There are inexpensive alternatives, including high school students. If your child is struggling with anxiety or depression, or social issues, seek mental health support. Here is some guidance regarding when to seek mental health support. http://drpeggydelong.com/some-guidance-regarding-when-to-seek-mental-health-services/
Know where to go for help with school. We encourage our children to get the help that they need in school and to know who to go to for that help. As parents, we also need to know where to go for help. So check in with your child’s guidance counselor/school counselor and see what specific help and support is available within the school setting. Your child may not necessarily need that help, but knowing that it is available and how to access the help can be comforting.
Self-Care. As parents, we sometimes lose a sense of ourselves. It is important to find, foster, or create what makes us unique, and what feeds our soul. It is not selfish to pursue your interests. On the contrary, doing so will help you to feel more fulfilled as a PERSON, which in turn helps with more loving, caring, and patient parenting. If you do not have a passion, think about your interests and find/discover/create one. If you already have a passion, do not feel guilty about engaging in your passion. If you have an old, neglected passion, give it life again! Hobbies and leisure activities reduce stress, enhance the immune system, improve self-esteem, elevate mood, improve sleep, and improve physical health. Some ideas include yoga, bicycling, pottery, painting, dancing, meditation, walking, music (sing in choir or play in a band), gardening, martial arts, reading, knitting, golf, needlepoint, glasswork, writing, swimming, scrapbooking, cooking, baking, sewing, beading – just to name a few!
Breathe. It is important to SLOW DOWN, be still, and just breathe. If your mind is racing, the to-do list seems overwhelming, the tasks seem daunting, the problems seem unsurmountable – these are all indications that it is just time to take a break and a moment for yourself and just breathe! It sounds so simple, as we breathe without even trying or noticing! But when we take a moment to focus on deep breathing, we experience physical and mental health benefits. Focused deep breathing increases oxygen, slows heartbeat, and lowers blood pressure. Deep breathing helps to achieve the “relaxation response”. In addition to the physiological benefits, the relaxation response helps to decrease stress and anxiety. So put on some soothing music, sit in a comfortable chair, and just breathe! Deep, focused, intentional breathing. Sometimes it is the most simple act that can have powerful results.