Caregiver Self-Care: Be Here Now
From the very beginning, there are so many things we feel pressured to be when we enter parenthood. You should be breastfeeding. You should be enjoying every minute. You should be calm. You should be a better cook. You should be good at work and be a good spouse and be a good parent. You should be able to do it all. You should be able to handle this. You should be better at this.
All of these things we feel we "should be" in reality have nothing to do with our inherent ability to be a good parent and parent the way our child needs us to. The journey into and through parenthood looks different for everyone. Even though we don’t experience the exact same journey, we are all moving through our own struggles, challenges, times that feel very dark and times of incredible joy. We have so many commonalities in these emotions and human experiences.
When I experience struggles as a parent, I often can become caught in a spiral of future thoughts—thoughts that take me away from the sweet, precious moments I am living—the moments right in front of me. On one of these times, when I was feeling especially trapped in this spiral, I somehow was able to find the words, “Be Here Now”. With my focus back on the present moment, I was able to breathe and re-focus on what is most important to me. Now, when I begin to feel this pull into uncertainty I try to stop in the moment and tell myself, "just be here now." I think this may be the best parenting advice I can give—No need to be anything except right here, right now. Be in this moment, be with your baby, your toddler, your teenager, your family. For better or worse, just be in this moment.
Here in Everyday Occupations I want to try to bridge what I have experienced and learned from both of my worlds—one of a therapist and one of a parent. I want to help empower any parent who feels lost, unsure or alone in any of the many different moments of parenthood. I want to validate all the parents that are doing the best that they can, right now, just as they are.
So here is where I will start, with ways to encourage your own emotional self-care as a parent. I feel this is the most important place to begin, as you can only be your best self to others once you have taken care of yourself first. When we take this time, it ultimately serves us, our families and the world around us. Thank you for taking this time to be here now:
Know your needs
Self-care looks different for each of us since we all have different needs. Consider what recharges you---is it being with others or having time alone? Is it being engaged in activity or being still? Or a little of both? What parts of who you are have been more difficult to nurture since becoming a parent? Think of these things without limitations to start---once you have a few ideas in their raw form, you can then work to melt them into your life.
Reinvent your routine
Try to reframe your daily routine--where are there places of flexibility you could build in time for yourself? Do you you have the most flexibility early in the morning or at night after children are in bed? Maybe its mid-day while your child is napping. Whenever it it is, try to think of this block of time as you would think of any other commitment or obligation--and really, what could be a higher priority than a commitment to your own well-being?
When setting expectations for ourselves we can often go really big. However, when we set such a high standard, we may fall short as life often gets in the way. I have a tendency to set out with a lofty "To Do" list including a lengthy workout, as that is what helps to fuel my own self-care---but then life happens and I end up skipping the workout all together because I no longer have the full amount of time to devote to it. I needed to downgrade my expectations. Now I feel satisfied if I have completed just a few minutes of any physical activity each day. Maybe I just walk the dog or maybe I end up doing something more intense---either way, I found a way to be successful in meeting this goal. Start with what feels attainable--maybe its 5 minutes to read a book in the morning before your children get out of bed. Start here and find a way to feel successful. As this time for yourself becomes a habit, you can always increase or adjust in a way that works for you.
Think outside the box
In order to ensure that you are able to consistently build time for your own wellness into your day and week, you may need to find creative solutions. For example, if your method to recharge is to spend time in nature but you don't have much alone time, could you take a nature hike on a nearby trail with your little one in a carrier or stroller? If you love to recharge while taking a relaxing bath before bed but this is difficult due to bedtime routines, could you potentially take a bath mid-day during your child's nap instead? In order to find this very important time, we often need to reframe and adjust our expectations. It is so crucial we take care of our own mental health and well-being both for the direct improvement on our health, but also for our children. We are better able to handle the challenges that come our way, but we are also modeling to our children the importance of prioritizing self-care. After all, self-care = self-love.