With school, housework and the kids’ after-school activities taking over your family life, your plate as a parent is pretty much full every day – but at what cost?
It’s easy to become socially isolated from the outside world when your family life is hectic, but it’s really important that parents throw away their mommy and daddy guilt and take time for themselves, parenting expert and author Ann Douglas says.
“We’re now in a culture where I think most of the time both parents are working full-time,” Douglas says. “Your non-working hours are precious and few so sometimes you feel like it’s not OK to take time to do anything for yourself and that you somehow should be with your kids every other hour of the day when you don’t have to be at work.”
Whether it’s working on yourself, the relationship between you and your partner or connecting with your family, setting aside that time not only benefits you but your family as well.
“As important as the role of parenting is, it is not our entire life,” Douglas says. “You have to continue to invest in your other parts of yourself – whether that be our health, relationships or your interests or identity.”
The benefit of doing that, Douglas says, is that by taking these breaks you’ll be able to come back to the job of parenting refreshed and energized, which will help you avoid burnout.
“Just a change of scene or environment you’ll come back at it with a fresh mind so it actually helps to make parenting easier,” she says. “All that said, we have to be realistic and realize there are times in your life as a parent when taking a break from parenting is really hard and it might even be impossible or impractical.”
For example, if a baby is breastfeeding it may be harder to do. Or if you’re a single parent and don’t have a lot of resources at your fingertips.
If you don’t take time for yourself, you’re not only be hurting yourself but the rest of your family as well, Douglas points out.
Despite any obstacles you may have or feel you have, however, there are little things you can do to carve out some well-needed self-care, Douglas says.
First, look for ways to take tiny breaks, especially if your situation is becoming a little overwhelming at the moment, Douglas suggests.
“A break can be something as simple as a cup of tea and reading through a book,” she says. “Do something just for you for a few minutes. It can even be done in the presence of the child if childcare is a nightmare.”
Also, try organizing a walk with a friend. Kids can tag along, Douglas says, but this especially helps you to keep on top of your social life.
“Taking a two-day trip somewhere or going to a spa isn’t always realistic,” she says. “A lot of people are on a budget and/or time crunch, so look at the tiny things and find those moments.”
Another thing parents need to do is recognize when sometimes all they need is a mental vacation.
“You might just need to shift your mindset a bit,” Douglas says. “So if you find yourself really frustrated and self-critical, turn things on their head and remind yourself parenting is hard work and that you’re doing the best you can as a parent and cut yourself the same amount of slack that you would cut a friend.”
By doing this, Douglas says, chances are you’ll ease up on yourself and won’t find parenting quite as hard and overwhelming as it can otherwise be.
Another thing to do is to look for opportunities to add a layer of fun to day-to-day parenting tasks, Douglas adds.
So maybe when you’re making dinner you’re listening to music, Douglas says. Or maybe on your way to grocery shopping, you stop in at an art gallery or museum and work it into the errand.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help, Douglas stresses.
“I think asking for help is really critical,” she says. “In the old days we were surrounded by our village and there were all kinds of extra hands available to give an exhausted parent a break. Now we have to work a little harder to put that village in place for ourselves.”
If you don’t have a big budget for childcare, try finding another family on your street who have kids of similar age and who you like and trust who have parenting philosophies that are compatible to yours and organize a childcare swap, Douglas suggests.
“Maybe one Thursday night they’ll take your kids and that frees you up to go to the gym or go to dinner with your partner,” she says. “And then the next Thursday you’ll return the favour and do the same for them.”
The biggest thing, Douglas says, is to figure out which strategies work for you, meaning what other things are actually going to de-stress and rejuvenate you.
“It can be different for every person,” she says. “Once you zero in on what you want, then you can start to find ways to make those things a priority in your life so you don’t feel that you’re being totally submerged by the role of parent.”