So many parents that I work with get overwhelmed at the idea of fitting self-care into their lives because it can feel like they’re adding yet another item to a never-ending list. It sounds like more to DO when they’re already tapped out.
And that’s why self-care can’t be a one-time event, or just single tasks squeezed into what Brigid Schulte calls "time confetti." Sometimes it might include that! We need to focus on creating a life that includes self-care opportunities instead of a life that’s too busy for them.
It’s hard to imagine that when you’re trapped in the survival mode of everyday life, especially with young kids.
Self-Care as a Lifestyle, Not an Event
Changing habits is hard, but once you create the space in your life to include self-care, it gets easier. Here are some ways that you might not think of as self-care, but can truly improve your wellbeing.
Use Structure and Routine to Decrease Decision Fatigue
I know, I know, some of you are rolling your eyes at this being either obvious, or setting yourself up to fail. Hear me out!
Are you familiar with the concept of “decision fatigue”? We start the day with a set amount of decision-making ability, and every time we have to make a choice, we use a little up. If you’re home with small kids, you often have to make a lot of decisions for them, which uses that up even faster.
If you have ADHD or executive function issues, this is even harder. Think about driving somewhere familiar versus driving somewhere new. Following directions takes more brain power than driving on autopilot. Our goal is to make more things run on autopilot to conserve that decision-making ability for when we need it.
It can feel counterintuitive to try to add structure to some parts of your life. For a lot of my clients, they try to over-plan, can’t follow through, and throw the whole thing out at the first whiff of failure. But when you separate the “decide” from the “do,” it can make the day go more smoothly.
People have mixed feelings about them, but we have a smart speaker system that I use to schedule daily reminders and regular alarms. That helps the kids and me keep track of what time it is and how long we have before we need to leave the house.
The Dinnertime Decision Dilemma
Decision fatigue is also why so many of us end up standing in front of an open refrigerator wishing that dinner would leap out into our arms. We're literally unable to make choices by early evening, and are probably hungry to boot.
So choose ahead of time. This could be as simple as a really basic meal plan, or simple themes like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, and Pizza Friday.
Need more resources for planning meals?
- East Breakfast Ideas
- Simple Lunch and Snack Ideas
- Kid-Friendly Dinner Ideas
- Learn to use your Instant Pot
- Podcast: Cooking with a Full Plate with Amy Vig
What can you do first? If this sounds overwhelming, schedule a call with me and we’ll do it together.
You Deserve to Rest Without Needing to Earn It
Remember actually relaxing? Often in our capitalist society we feel like we need to be productive every waking moment of our lives. But that isn’t actually true. If you still need that motivation, then remember that rest is also productive. Pushing yourself too hard and getting sick or making mistakes isn’t actually helpful.
Schedule in regular periods of rest and relaxation. Maybe this means putting the kids in front of a movie one afternoon a week while you read a novel or text a friend or take a bath. Or you block off a period of time a few times a week when your partner is watching the kids and you have no responsibilities. You can drink coffee on the patio, or stare into space, or call a friend, or do yoga, or take a nap.
You don’t need to EARN rest. You deserve to rest because you are a human, not a machine, and your value is not determined by your productivity. I highly recommend following The Nap Ministry for more about this important topic.
Set Goals for Purpose, Not Productivity
This is a little funny coming after the discussion about relaxation, but setting goals can be an important part of self-care. So much of parenting is relentless and unending. I call it "the parenting hamster wheel" since it can feel like an eternal cycle of feeding, dishes, laundry, and bedtime. Setting goals to work towards can help you regain a sense of purpose and accomplishment that parenting doesn’t necessarily fulfill.
Maybe you choose a creative project, a physical activity, a social or community group, or even a professional or educational goal. One that I am working on this year is reading more. I set a goal on Goodreads, and have a book group chat for reading recommendations and discussions.
Try to set a goal that isn’t based on outcomes, especially since family life can throw things off. Instead of saying “I will finish 50 books,” maybe it’s, “I will read at least 3 times per week.” That offers more flexibility in case life happens. (Of course my Goodreads goal is 50 books, but I also set that knowing I would surpass it so that it didn't stress me out. I also like to track my reading stats on my Kindle app.)
Again, if you’re overwhelmed and don’t even know where to start, I can help with that!
Find Fulfilling Work
Finding purpose and fulfillment in what you do is important for your physical and mental health. This could be paid or volunteer work, full-time or part-time or occasional, or even once a year. Feeling accomplished and valued is something that we all need.
If you are working for someone else and hate your job right now, what would you need to make it work for you? Can you:
- Set some boundaries at work?
- Change your hours?
- Look into a transfer?
- Ask for a raise?
- Look for a new job?
What IS in your control?
What’s something you’re passionate about? Can you volunteer for an organization that’s important to you? Your child’s school? A mutual aid group? What skills do you have that you enjoy using?
Some people prefer to have a job they're not as passionate about so they can spend time on their hobbies or outside interests. Even if the work isn't your favorite, embracing that it gives you that freedom may help. What works best for you?
Lifelong Learning, Continuing Education, or Enrichment
So many of us have a negative view that equates “education” with “school,” and remember school as a place of boredom, judgement, and criticism. But that’s not what I mean here.
In a perfect world I would be a professional student. I love learning new things all the time: I read a lot of nonfiction books, take online courses, and am always looking for ways to nerd out. Sometimes it's parenting books, sometimes it's witch gardens.
Sometimes when managing kids our brains feel like they’re at (or over) capacity, but thinking about something else can be a refreshing change. Can you read a book you wouldn’t normally read? Listen to a podcast about an interesting topic? Check out some books about a topic you don’t know about and learn with your kids.
Or you could take a class (in-person or online) about something you’ve always wanted to do. Scour Pinterest for tutorials about eye makeup or embroidery or cake decorating or watercolor painting. Download a language app and finally learn Swedish or Swahili. Write your novel. Sew pajamas. Build a bookshelf. Try ikebana.
It’s good for us, and models for our kids that even adults don’t know everything and can keep learning. There is so much information available to us that it can be overwhelming, but it also provides so many opportunities at various price points.
What is something you want to learn more about, or how to do? Where can you get more information?
Pursue Personal Development
Parenting is the biggest personal development project you can tackle, but it’s done by the seats of our pants. It encompasses a lot of the topics in this post--and in my other self-care posts--because personal development is assessing your strengths and areas of improvement.
There are a lot of perspectives on personal development that focus on productivity and earning potential, but that’s not what’s most important to me. I’m more interested in what I need to do to feel most like myself, what I need to address to be the kind of parent I want to be, and what I need to learn to create the type of community I want to be a part of.
For me, a lot of this is unlearning ideas I’ve internalized throughout my life, and imagining new ways of being. This may include journaling, therapy, coaching, reading, etc.
How to Start a Self-Care Routine
If you’re already feeling lost, that’s normal -- and a sign that you need more self-care. (See what I did there?) 😘
Here are the steps I walk my clients through. Write down the answers to these questions and see what comes up for you. If you have a hard time getting through this on your own, schedule a call with me.
- Which of the ideas above sounds the easiest for you to start?
- Which of these is currently the biggest obstacle for you?
- Which of these would have the biggest impact on your life?
Now think about if you need an easy win to build momentum, if you need to eliminate something before you can move forward, or if you need a bigger change to get started.
What’s the very first step you can take to make that happen?