Whether you work full time, stay at home with your kids, or do a combination of both, you’re likely strapped for time. And that means that self-care might rarely make your schedule. After all, you’re busy and maybe overwhelmed. Maybe you don’t have extra (or any) childcare. Maybe you work a split shift, so after your kids go to bed, you’re typing away on the computer, instead of caring for yourself.
But self-care is worth prioritizing. According to Lisa Lewis, M.D., a practicing pediatrician and author of the book Feed the Baby Hummus: Pediatrician-Backed Secrets from Cultures Around the World, self-care boosts our overall wellness. It helps us to both prevent and treat our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. And, she noted, it models nourishing habits for our kids.
Despite how busy you are, you can make time to care for yourself. Yes, really. Here’s how:
Re-evaluate your schedule. Dr. Lewis suggested looking over your schedule and seeing where you can cut back. Be ruthless about this. What is essential? Really essential? What can you delegate or drop altogether? “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she said.
For example, you might trade off self-care time with your spouse, a family member, or neighbor. That is, dad preps dinner a few days a week while mom does a 20-minute yoga practice in another room, Dr. Lewis said. Or a loved one or neighbor watches the kids for 20 minutes while a single parent takes a walk around their neighborhood.
Do it together. Include your kids or the entire family in some of your self-care activities. According to Dr. Lewis, you might do a yoga video together or take a walk together. If reading is an important self-care practice for you, institute a family reading hour, where everyone sits around the living room (or in their rooms) and reads their favorite books.
Shift your mindset. Most of the obstacles to practicing self-care have to do with our perspectives. Maybe self-care won’t look the same way right now as it did before you had kids and a demanding career. Maybe today self-care will be done in short bursts: a 20-minute walk, a 10-minute reading session, a 5-minute meditation. The key is to do something that brings you joy—even if it’s just 5 minutes.
Changing your mindset also means letting go of the idea that you have no time. It means no longer thinking in all-or-nothing, black-and-white terms and getting creative and intentional with your solutions. Time management expert Laura Vanderkam has an invaluable series called “Tranquility by Tuesday” which explores how we can create fulfilling lives, even when our days seem jam-packed.
Use non-work time well. Make the most of your lunch break by fitting in a refreshing walk outside, taking a fun dance class at a nearby gym, or scheduling a date with your partner (if they work close by). Or use your lunch break to savor some solitary activities: read at the park, journal, write your novel, or go to your favorite restaurant or coffee shop.
Similarly, make the most of your commute (which will, of course, depend on whether you’re driving or riding): Listen to interesting podcasts or audiobooks, call or text with your close friend, crochet, sing, pen a poem, pray, learn a new language. In short, pick something you’re passionate about, something that inspires or uplifts you, or something that relaxes you.
Of course, everyone’s situation is different. And everyone’s needs are different, too. Either way, remember that you deserve to care for yourself.
Start by identifying what you need physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Then see how you can make that happen, whether it’s during your commute, with your family, in the mornings, or in shorter bursts.
The key to practicing self-care as a busy parent is to realize that you can, indeed, practice self-care. It might take some creativity, resourcefulness, delegation, ruthless re-evaluation, and a change in mindset.
But you can absolutely make time for what nourishes and fulfills you.