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Parenting during a Pandemic – The Importance of Self-Care

By: Christina Melville, MSED, LCPC, NCC, Clinical Therapist at 360 Youth Services

Part 2

We are now several weeks into dealing with a global pandemic. Some parents are finding their rhythm with home schooling their kiddos and working from home. Some are taking it day by day and re-prioritizing what needs to get done on what feels like an hourly basis. Hardly anyone is living their best life right now. Hopefully you are showing up as best as you can, and are reaching out to your people for support.

Prior to the pandemic occurring, I would venture to say that most parents were not great at practicing self-care. It’s the easiest thing to push to the bottom of the pile when you’re managing the endless responsibilities that come with parenting. In addition, many parents are conditioned to think that they must give 110% to their children at all times otherwise they will be failing them in some way. Logically we know this is nonsense, but emotionally we let guilt tell us that we are not doing enough; that to focus on our selves is to take away from our kids. I would argue that it does the opposite.

Self-care should’ve been an important priority before the pandemic took place, but now I believe it is a crucial need for parents as we adapt to a rapidly changing reality. There is a frequently used analogy in counseling where we encourage people to “put on their oxygen masks first” before helping others around them (like we are instructed to do on an airplane in the event of an emergency). You will not be in a position to help others if you are not functioning yourself. Our kids need us to have our batteries charged up so that we have the patience, compassion, and presence to be there for them, ESPECIALLY during such an uncertain and scary time.

Self-care is not selfish. It is a vital part of parenting that serves our children and makes us more available to them. And self-care doesn’t have to be something that takes up hours of time during your day. As glorious as it would be to carve out a spa day right now to practice self-care, it’s something that can be achieved in a much more practical way. Taking time for yourself a few minutes here and there can keep you going.

Here are some ideas for weaving self-care into your routine:

  • Do a work-out to start or end your day. There are an abundance of free, at-home workouts popping up on social media that are giving people guidance on how to complete quick body-weight only exercises while being stuck indoors. You might even be able to squeeze workouts in with your kiddos, and make it a family activity! Physical activity is as important for mental health as it is for physical health.
  • Take 10-15 minute breaks throughout the day to give you a chance to re-charge. During this time you can check your phone uninterrupted, find something funny to make you laugh, communicate with a friend, meditate, do some body stretching, sit outside to get fresh air, or listen to some music. The point is to go “offline” from kiddos and work for a few minutes throughout the day so you can replenish what is depleted. If the kids need to watch one more episode of Daniel Tiger while you take this break, so be it! Now is not the time to fret over screen time, we are all in survival mode here.
  • Journaling can be an effective way to take what’s swirling instead your brain and give it an outlet on paper. You have creative license to journal about whatever is most helpful to you. You can track goals and habits, write about your day, give yourself a pep talk, identify things you are grateful for amidst all the chaos, or fill your pages with drawings and doodles. I have found the 5 Minute Journal by Tim Ferriss is a wonderful tool that helps me stay focused on my needs.
  • Yoga – There are so many benefits in connecting your body, breath, and emotions through yoga movement. It can decrease stress and anxiety and help you become more present. I have enjoyed Yoga by Adriene and if you’re interested in doing yoga with your kiddos, Cosmic Kids Yoga is fantastic for all ages!
  • Get outside – Most people in the Midwestern states do not get enough Vitamin D, so now is a perfect opportunity to get outside as much as possible. When you’re stuck inside for prolonged periods of time, it can be rejuvenating to get fresh air and exposure to natural sunlight. As the weather and your schedule allows, try to get outside for a few minutes every day.
  • Scheduling “You” time – I know a prime time to get caught up on your to do list is at night after the kids are in bed. It’s quiet and there are no interruptions. As someone who routinely stays up late to continue working or cleaning, I won’t tell you to kick that habit. But I will recommend that you take at least one night a week to ensure that you are doing things that do not involve work, family, or household tasks. Think of it as scheduling a date night with yourself. Binge watch shows, take a bath, read a book, do a puzzle – whatever speaks to you and your interests. If you can designate a specific night of the week to carve out as “you” time, then it will naturally become part of your routine and rhythm. Challenge yourself to see how many books you can read in a month or how many movies you can fit in. Once I make it a goal or add it to my “to do” list, I have a lot of fun checking it off and feel like I’ve accomplished something.
  • Cover the basics – If any of the above items still seem impossible to weave into your day/week/month then I would encourage you to cover the basics of getting enough water, food, and rest. Staying hydrated, eating regularly, and making sure you’re getting several decent nights of sleep per week will help you keep up with the rapid pace of at-home pandemic life.

As parents and as people, I truly believe we will come through this pandemic with skills and gifts we didn’t think we were capable of. We are in the daily grind of it now, but we will come out the other side. Put your oxygen mask on so that you can be available to the people who are relying on you. Practicing self-care isn’t just to benefit you, it’s to benefit your kiddos too.

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