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Self-Care: An Essential Element to Survival

In honor of September, Self-Care Awareness Month

 What do you think about when you hear the phrase “self-care?”

If you’re like many parents, your first response might be, “Self-care? Who has time for that?”  If pressed, you might respond that it consists of indulgences like a massage, a glass of wine, a pedicure, or maybe even a bath.  This is what the critical concept of self-care has been boiled down to in our culture and in much of the media.

And while all of those things are lovely—I’d take any one of them, or all of them, at the moment—they are not the type of self-care that sustains us, or that helps us parent better.

Sustaining self-care is perhaps less fun, but more important.  It’s the kind of care that provides us with growth, creates and preserves energy, improves our physical and mental health, and, in the end, gives us an increased capacity to care for others.  It’s not a quick fix, but a series of habits; things like sleep, good nutrition, movement, mindfulness, playfulness, self-reflection, and creative practice.

So, when life feels overwhelming, what can you do to use these habits to support you rather than simply add one more thing on your “To Do” list?

Reframe the word “NO.” 

Many of the parents I work with lament that they don’t have the time for self-care because they are too busy with other obligations—to their kids, their workplace, their friends, their volunteer work, etc.  These parents hate telling people “No.”  If that resonates with you, can you recognize that we are always saying NO to something?  For example, when we agree to take on an extra project at work despite knowing that we are maxed out already, what are we saying no to?  Time with our families? Adequate sleep? A high level of functioning?  When we take on the extra volunteer job because we hate telling the nice members of the PTA no (my own personal challenge), what are we actually saying no to?  More time with our children? Workouts that might lead to better mental and physical help?  One-on-one time with our partners?  “No” is not a dirty word—in fact, it is a complete sentence in and of itself.  If we realize that we are always saying no to something, it can make it easier to decide where to say no, rather than if.  To make getting to “no” easier, try not answering a request right away: “Thank you for asking.  I need to think about that.  I will let you know by ____ whether I will be able to take that on.” Use that break to really evaluate what will serve you most heartfully.

Reframe your perception of self-care.

So many parents cringe at the word self-care, because somewhere along the way many of us, women in particular, got sold a bill of goods that made us believe that when we became parents we were no longer worthy of being put “on the list.”  We were told that self-care is selfish.  Rubbish.  It is okay to be at the center of your own life—self-care should be focused on you!  It also is okay to view it as the critical investment in your long-term well-being that it is and to set boundaries that protect your time for it.  The reality is you parent better when you feel better, so take the time to invest in self-care that ultimately gives you energy; in this way, you can better serve all the people depending on you!

Reframe your black and white thinking.

This one is soooo hard for me.  By nature, I’m an all-or-nothing person—”if I’m not working out 5 days a week, what’s the point of 1 workout?”, I have been known to ask myself.  “If I’m not eating 100% clean, then I might as well eat all the cookies, right?”  Sound familiar at all?  Black and white thinking is a common way that many of us undermine and sabotage our best intentions.  There is power, however, in reframing and learning to live in the gray.  One workout is better than no workout.  80% clean eating is better than fast food at every meal.  When we are flexible with and recognize that a step forward is just that—a step forward—self-care truly becomes more life-sustaining than life-draining.

Putting yourself back on the list, doing things that feel good and energizing, and showing your family that you matter, too, can result in cosmic shifts in the relationships, connection, and joy between family members.  If you are getting what you need, it’s so much easier to give what they need.

So quick, pop quiz: what are you going to do TODAY to take care of YOU?  How about tomorrow?

While you’re answering that, I’m heading out for a walk…

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Christy Keating fun headshot

Christy Keating is a certified parent coach,  positive discipline educator, and motivational speaker. She is the founder and CEO of The Heartful Parent Collective, which includes Heartful Parent Coaching, Savvy Parents Safe Kids, and Heartful Parent Academy.

The mother of two amazing daughters, Christy strives to build a happier, healthier world - one child, one parent, and one family at a time.