Finding time for ourselves is often a daunting task; especially when there are stressors all around us in our every day lives. From our parental relationships to personal relationships to financial concerns, even a moment of “me time” can seem like an eternity away from everything else. We talked to Barbara Heuser, LCSW, EIS and Kelsey N. Klindt, PsyD at The Warren Center about the importance of self-care.
Q: What is important for parents and caregivers that are worried about taking time for themselves to understand?
Barbara Heuser, LCSW, EIS: It’s important for parents and caregivers to understand that it’s not selfish! It is a requirement to take care of yourself. You’re only one person and can only do so much. So, being willing to ask for help is important and okay. You can ask friends or other family members to help pick up the kids or watch them. There are also programs that provide respite and support services so that you can catch a break.
Kelsey N. Klindt, PsyD: There is an old saying about “you can’t pour from an empty glass.” It’s been repeated a million times recently. There’s also the warning they give you on a plane about how in case of emergency, you are supposed to put your own mask on before helping others, even your children with theirs. I realize this goes against a lot of parents’ instincts, but if you think about it, how helpful would it be if you are struggling to put your toddler’s mask on and then pass out because you didn’t get yours on? Taking care of yourself does not mean you aren’t taking care of your child. You are your child’s best source of support and safety. Of course that means you need to be supported and safe as well! Lastly, remember that you are not alone. Rely on your partner, your friends and family, and your community. It takes a village. Let us know if you are struggling or in need of extra assistance. We will do our best to help!
Q: How can parents and caregivers find time in their busy day-to-day schedules for themselves?
BH: A great way to start working time for yourself in your daily routine is to create a habit that doesn’t take too much time. Even when you’re at a stop sign, you can do some deep breathing to calm your body. Take a few minutes to yourself to take deep breaths in, hold it there for a bit and then let a deep breath out. Or you can take five minutes to yourself and go have lunch in nature. Movement is also a big helper when it comes to self-care. Step away and take a power-walk around the block. Writing is another great tool for taking care of yourself. Write notes and memos to yourself of things you are thankful for. Reflect on life and journal the positive aspects. These “parent time-outs” are crucial because these little things start adding up and help us maintain our sanity. Sometimes we just need to “be” for a moment.
KK: People in general are not the greatest at recognizing how they are feeling. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle and forget to check in on ourselves. Snickers went so far as to market their candy bars on the idea of “you aren’t you when you’re hungry.” These types of things can sneak up on us. Paying attention to our body’s cues and our thoughts, and otherwise being mindful of ourselves, can help us make good choices, keep our cool, and not let our frustrations boil over. Again, this isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. I personally struggle with mindfulness on my own. I can teach it, but I’m not the best at practicing it. Since I know this about myself, I use technology to set reminders and help me stay on track. There are a bunch of apps designed for this. Just search “mindfulness” and you will be bombarded in the App Store. When you really get down to it though, it’s about reading your body’s cues and making time for things as simple as breathing. If you have a smart watch or a smart phone, there are some mindfulness and mental health perks already built in. Taking a few deep breaths seems so simple, but in a matter of minutes, your bodily functions will actually respond and help you feel calmer. Making time for yourself does not necessarily mean that you are taking all of the time to yourself. There’s a balance. I mentioned apps and tech services (“Breathe” on a FitBit), many of these are 30 seconds, one minute, five minutes. Even if your child is having a full-scale meltdown (but is in a safe place), it is ok if you take 30 seconds to try to calm your own body before trying to calm theirs. Remember that kids are sponges and often respond to the cues and vibes that adults put off, even if they don’t realize it. An overly stressed parent can lead to a stressed or anxious child.
Q: What kind of benefits will parents and caregivers begin to notice by taking time to care for themselves?
BH: When parents and caregivers take time for themselves, all of their relationships benefit as well as your relationship with yourself. Taking time for yourself can reduce the stress and pressures that you feel in other places in your life. You’re able to spend time with your child and loved ones without having to worry about being in teaching or learning mode all of the time and just be present. Being present is HUGE for your growth and your child’s growth. You are able to get to know your child better by finding out what makes your child feel good, how to meet that need and how to communicate with them in ways that they appreciate and understand. Maybe enjoy and thrive with quality time, maybe using words of affirmation and positivity are better for them or even expressing affection. Observing your child’s love languages and communicating in that language helps them understand your love and acceptance without the feeling that they need to perform.
KK: If adults can have such a hard time figuring out how they feel, imagine how much harder it is for a child! Now imagine if that child is struggling to learn the language and how to use words to tell others! The main way that children communicate is through their behaviors. If a little one is frustrated, they’re less likely to come up to you and say, “Mommy, daddy, I’m feeling frustrated and think I need a nap.” It’s more likely that they are going to throw their toys across the room, yell, scream, or hit and kick. If you can figure out what your child is trying to communicate through their actions (e.g., sleepy, hungry, in pain, confused, overstimulated), you might even be able to recognize the things that happened before in order to prevent it from happening again. Being in-tune with your child’s needs and feelings is so much easier if you are also in-tune with your own needs and feelings.