Practicing self-care is especially tough when you’re a parent. After all, your time is limited. Very limited. You also might wrestle daily with guilt: Shouldn’t I focus solely on my baby? On my family? I can’t take this time for myself. That’s not what a parent does!
But self-care is powerful and important for all of us. Still this doesn’t mean it’s easy. Which is why I wanted to find out how other moms practice self-care amid the challenges of parenthood.
Recently, I shared this great interview with therapist Anna Osborn, who talked about what works for her (including an awesome tip using her e-calendar). Today, I’m sharing another excellent interview with clinical psychologist Jessica Michaelson.
Jessica has a private practice in Austin, Texas, and works with clients remotely, too. She’s a mom to 5- and 7-year old boys. Below, Jessica reveals her definition of self-care; what self-care entails for her; the power of clear-cut limits and much more. Stay tuned for two more interviews throughout the month!
Q: What does self-care consist of for you? In other words, I’m wondering how you approach self-care and what that might entail.
A: I see self-care as those activities that keep you at or above your baseline well-being on an ongoing basis. So my self-care includes: 8+ hours of sleep; healthy and regular meals; low alcohol and sugar intake; regular intellectual and creative stimulation like a good book or online course; and regular conversations with people I love like my partner and friends. In addition, I find moving my body really important to stay at baseline, so I find time every day to do at least 10 minutes of activity even if that’s walking around the block or making it to a yoga class at 6:30 a.m.
I also manage my stimulation and stress load, so I don’t schedule many after school activities during the week, have simple and quick meals, allow a lot of time for unstructured/unrushed hanging out.
I am very fortunate and grateful to have the luxury of working a 30-hour work week, so that allows me some more flex time in the afternoon and evening so I don’t feel as rushed. One reason we recently moved our family cross country was so we could afford for me to work less, which was a big family investment in self-care!
Q: How do you navigate the challenge of caring for your kids (and others) while caring for yourself?
A: I find other adults to help with the children, whether that’s after-school care, letting my partner be primary parent regularly, accepting offers from family or friends to watch my kids. Even though I can miss them or feel guilty taking time away, I know that it’s good for them to feel safe with many adults and it’s good for me to come back recharged and fulfilled.
I also set very clear limits and structures in place in our family, so even if my children (5 and 7 – so not babies!) are protesting about going to bed, I am able to leave the room and let them know that my sleep is important, too. They know that we all take care of our needs in this family. Having clear structures minimizes whining and conflicts, which helps me maintain my stamina in parenting.
I do struggle with guilt when wanting time to myself because I know another adult is taking on the responsibilities. That feeling doesn’t necessarily go away, but my self-care means not to letting this unhelpful form of guilt dictate my behavior.
We also do activities that have some element of enjoyment or fulfillment for the adults as well as the kids. If we’re going to a play spot, for example, that is not fun for me, I might invite friends so that I can have some adult time and feel nourished that way, while the kids play. It feels important to self-care to integrate the whole-family’s preferences in our activities.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about self-care and motherhood?
A: This is repetition, but self-care isn’t a once-in-a-while pampering. That’s a bonus. You need to know your baseline level of well-being—that state when you feel healthy and present—and be very intentional about preventing yourself from dipping too far below that line for too long (that may cause or be a result of a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder).
Because of the demands of early motherhood with very young children, self-care may be just about staying at baseline, with occasional moments of spiking above baseline with a really great enjoyable experience. But after the first couple years, it’s important to keep yourself at baseline as much as possible and seek moments of going above and pursuing your own pleasure and fulfillment.
Jessica Michaelson, Psy.D, is a clinical psychologist who uses a mindfulness-based approach to help individuals prioritize their well-being and the health of their relationships, while taking care of all the necessary responsibilities of life. She provides individual and couples therapy for adults. She sees clients locally, in Austin, Texas, and remotely via phone/video chat. Learn more about Jessica at her website http://www.drjessicamichaelson.com, and read her excellent blog here.
How do you balance caring for kids—or anyone else—with caring for yourself? What works for you? What have you learned? What do you still have a tough time with?