Mindful Parenting? First, Self-Care!
This blog has been quiet for a few days, as I have been sick. I’ve had a head and chest cold for almost 4 weeks, and it got bad enough to land me in urgent care yesterday. One chest x-ray and a blood test later, it was determined that while I don’t have pneumonia, my asthma has been triggered for the first time in years. I came home with prescriptions for some heavy duty meds, including prednisone (an oral steroid), two inhalers, and cough medicine with codeine.
The good news is that my cough disappeared pretty quickly. The bad news is that the prednisone kept me up all night long. As I lay in bed, trying to sleep, I meditated, first by following my breaths, then by counting backwards from 100—anything to keep my concentration focused and my mind from wandering to the past and worrying about the future, which is where it naturally wants to go. (For the record, I never got lower than 75 before my thoughts got the better of me, and often I wouldn’t even make it to 95. But the point of mindfulness practice isn’t to get right, it’s just to keep coming back.)
After almost an hour of that, I got to thinking. I’ve been sick for quite awhile now. For the past 3 weekends, my husband has had to take on the bulk of the parenting while I rested. I’ve had to cancel plans, and I certainly haven’t been able to be fully present or available for my family and friends. My body is clearly trying to tell me something, and it’s not good news. Yes, I’ve been meditating somewhat regularly, and working out a few times a week, but clearly that’s not enough. Something else needs to change.
Quite simply, I need to focus on self-care.
Self-care is something we learn a lot about in social work training; the work of sitting with people in pain and crisis is emotionally draining in ways that have physical consequences. The work of mindful parenting (which to be honest, hasn’t been happening as much as I would like around here lately—being present is tough when you’re sick and tired!) is no different. It’s like we’re all on a big airplane. We need to put on our own oxygen masks before we can help someone else. Every single one of us, regardless of the work or parenting we do, needs to take time to care for ourselves—something our culture just doesn’t support. We live in a society that values success, achievement, and accomplishments. We don’t get points for sitting and breathing, for taking walks, for just stopping. The thing is, that’s just what I need more of.
As my mind was racing last night, I identified a few ways in which I can take better care of my body and my health. This self-care is essential to parenting well, and I have been neglecting it. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Meditate every morning. (Up to this point, I’ve only been meditating 3-4x/week.) Research suggests it will help me get over my cold faster and boost my immune system. This article has some great ideas for establishing a practice, and it’s renewing my inspiration!
2. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. Ideally, that will include yoga 2-3x/week.
3. Ditch the sugar in my diet. This is going to be a very tough one for me. I’m seriously addicted to chocolate and cookies. But I have become increasingly convinced that sugar is just not good for me, and I know I feel better on the days when I do stay away from it.
4. All screens off by 9 PM, in bed by 9:30 PM. Some folks (including my husband) can function on less than 8 hours of sleep each night. I just can’t. This will also be tough for me, because by the time the girls are in bed and we’ve had dinner, it’s almost 8 PM or later. I enjoy watching a TV show or two with my husband, but I need to focus on making sleep a priority.
I’m sure there are many other changes I could make, but I know that if I take on too much at once, I’m unlikely to stick with any of it.
How do you prioritize your self-care? What gets in the way? And what would you add to the list?
Naumburg, C. (2012). Mindful Parenting? First, Self-Care!. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 18, 2017, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-parenting/2012/11/mindful-parenting-first-self-care/