The Truth About Parenting and Self-care
Self-care as a parent?
Parenting and self-care sound like an oxymoron as time and energy for parents usually seem pretty scarce. I’ve heard from different parents having a baby is one of the most amazing experiences in their entire life. However, this transition to parenthood may be challenging and it can feel like there is no time for anything else. The demands of the baby, the desire to be a good parent, the responsibility this entails, and the standards of society about positive parenting are some of the concerns parents face.
With all of this in mind, it may feel selfish to even think of taking time for oneself. However, not taking care of yourself as a parent can lead to parental burnout and you may end up doing exactly what you have tried so hard to avoid. With summer break quickly approaching, it is vital to take care of yourself so you can be there for your kids and don’t spend the entire summer stressed to your limit.
What is parental burnout and how does it happen?
According to this study, the process usually begins by feeling responsibility and pressure to be a good parent. I don’t remember ever meeting a mother who was totally confident about her abilities as a parent or free from the fear of not being good enough. The study shows how this constant worry creates stress by itself and can be exacerbated by the standards society imposes. This usually includes the “shoulds” – how clean the children should be, what they should eat and do, what values they should have and so forth.
In addition, there often seems to be a lack of parameters for which to measure a parent’s performance. The mothers who participated in the study didn’t have a clear way to evaluate their effectiveness as moms and this created more feelings of inadequacy, stress, self-doubt and anxiety. It’s not a surprise that the higher the yardstick the more pressure and overwhelmed parents may feel.
Other aspects revealed by this study include what they called projection. This is the responsibility a parent feels regarding the future of the child, the concern that something they do in the present can negatively affect the success of their offspring. In conclusion, parental burnout is the result of all the worry, self-doubt, anxiety, fear and feelings of inadequacy. Top that with the lack of energy due to the physical demands of taking care of a child. Being successful at both parenting and self-care feels nearly impossible.
How important is parenting and self-care?
Once a parent has reached the point of emotional and physical fatigue, the interaction with their children begins to change. The overwhelmed mothers in the study felt apathy towards activities related to their children, from planning events to everyday tasks and house chores. As the demands of parenthood never stop, these mothers reached a level of exhaustion, leading them to yelling, name calling, and other aggressive behaviors toward their own children. Their reactions were followed by feelings of guilt, shame, self-hate, incompetency, and failure as mothers, intensifying the cycle.
Parental burnout is a reality and the consequences can affect both parents and children. To prevent reaching that level of exhaustion, parental self-care is important. If taking time for yourself is very difficult for you, think about the consequences that your child may face if you don’t. In other words, do it for them if you can’t get motivated to do it for you.
The following are some parenting and self-care tips that can help you keep balanced:
Lower your yardstick.
Perfection doesn’t exist. Try striving for authenticity. What better example for your children than a parent who accepts who he/she is, with all this encompasses: positive and negative emotions, rights and wrongs, successes and mistakes, laugh and tears.
Ask for help
We all need help at some time or another. It is okay to reach out to your partner and family members for support. Take one day a month -or more if you can- free from parenting and work and enjoy yourself. Call a friend and have a coffee, walk on the beach, go to the mall, go to the gym, go out at night and recharge.
Have friends with whom you can vent
This can be your partner, a family member or a supportive friend. Spend some time complaining about the multiple demands and challenges you face everyday with your children. Take time to recognize the multiple qualities you have to face these demands such as patience and self-control. Then take a moment to count your blessings.
Set a personal goal or engage in a hobby
Learning something new, training for a marathon, reading a book or starting your own garden are all healthy ways to recharge. These activities can give your mind something to concentrate on other than your children.
If you feel you are on the way to parental burnout and have difficulty finding ways to balance your life, don’t hesitate to look for counseling. You and your children could benefit greatly from this. Being good at parenting and self-care is a thing. My colleagues at Family Therapy Associates can help you identify the pressure and negative thoughts you may be imposing on yourself, recognize your strengths and focus on creating space for self-care.
Being a parent is hard work, some of the hardest. Self-care will help you to keep the peace of mind you need and be the parent you want to be.
How do you prevent parental burnout?