Many couples and families initially seek therapeutic services in hopes of managing their day-to-day stressors more effectively. It’s not uncommon for many of us to feel depleted, as though we are running on fumes. Award-winning author, feminist, and social justice activist, L.R. Knost said, “Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean me first, it means me too.” Between balancing our careers and maintaining our own standards of parenting, we all have running lists while we are home with the family. Feed the baby, teach little ones to pick up after themselves, complete homework assignments, negotiate with the teen, pay the bills, walk the dog, connect with your partner…the list can go on and on. But where are you on that list?
It’s important for us to keep our gas tank full and this can be maintained by simply tending to yourself even while you tend to your child. Many of my clients are surprised to notice how we automatically deny our own desires without even noticing. Maybe we’re tempted to pick up a crayon and enjoy expressing our creativity alongside our child who is actively coloring, but we’d feel silly. Or maybe we’d love a cup of tea while we help our child finish their school project, but boiling water is too time consuming.
Throughout the day, you can prioritize yourself by adding what you need onto the list. Here’s how.
- While you are taking care of your child, check in with yourself. As you tend to your child, reflect and notice what you need by asking what would help you stay balanced? Any moment presents the opportunity big or small to nurture your mind, body, and soul – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Tend to yourself at the same time as you tend to your child. If there is something you really need that you are not getting, for example: sleep – make a plan. Let’s say your infant wakes up repeatedly throughout the night and you have another child to tend to during the day; figure out a way to get the help you need. Even a small step in the right direction will help give you the momentum to take initiative in creating your new plan.
- Notice the challenging times of the day and find ways to nurture yourself through them. It’s your life and you are in charge. If bedtime drives you crazy, think about ways you can improve upon the routine. Maybe start earlier or share more responsibility with your partner or kids. A fun idea can be creating a schedule with them through a photo shoot, start by having them engage or pose for each step of their routine. This can help bedtime become more of a shared responsibility as they now have the photos, in addition to their memory bank to refer back to. Or maybe, you simply just enjoy that cup of tea.
- Before you pick up your child from school, or walk into the grocery store, STOP. Take a deep breath and ask yourself “What do I need right now?” For some, this may be too vague of a question. Sometimes I might ask my clients, regardless of age, “If your legs could talk, what would they say? If your heart can speak, what would it tell you?” Devote some time to come up with actionable responses and changes. For instance, if the answer you hear from your heart is “comfort” you may find a way to work in some extra cuddle time with your child, partner, or pet in the evening. If the answer is “a break”, leave the grocery store, order pizza for dinner, put everyone to bed early, take a long bath and read your favorite novel. If you find yourself frequently coming up with the same answer, you may need to make some structural adjustments in your life.
- Parent yourself. Whose job is it to nurture you? Yours. Spouses, partners, friends and families are companions on the journey, but we can only take in from them what we’re able to give to ourselves. If you weren’t nurtured enough as a little one, this may take some learning. Start by talking to yourself like you would for someone you love. Nurture yourself through the hard times. Acknowledge just how hard it all is, and how hard you try. You don’t need to be perfect.
Giving love to ourselves transforms our parenting and our lives. When the baby’s crying and you yourself need a good cry, it’s true that the baby comes first. But by embracing and attuning with yourself compassionately (and crying if you need to) will help make you both feel better.
Let’s start today by putting yourself back on your list. 1 is depleted, 10 is a full gas tank. How are you doing? What one thing can you do right now to give yourself more support?
Lindsay Enright, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda, MD office. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Lindsay!