Tips for Taking Care of Yourself While You’re Taking Care of Everybody Else

By: Vicki Bohling

I’m an early morning person – always have been. I love the whole fresh-start thing and the quiet that comes from being the first one up. My kids are nocturnal young adults now, but when they were little they were downright chicken-like in their sleep habits. I swore they could hear my eyelids open.

That was a tough stretch for me--those days when I felt propelled from my horizontal state straight into fourth-gear-caregiver mode (with someone else’s foot on the gas pedal!). While my mornings were on "temporary loan" to my children, I had to get creative in finding some quiet space in the day to think about life without actually being in the middle of it. Forget candlelit dinners and bubble baths – it was the drive time to and from work that saved me on most days…and the occasional chance to lollygag in the produce section at 10 p.m. all by myself in search of the perfect head of lettuce.

Self-care is not selfish. Just ask those flight attendants who are always telling us to put the oxygen masks on ourselves first. Whether you are raising tiny tots or young adults, there are some things you can do to claim some self amidst the sacrifice:

When your children are little…

  • Ask for help. Much as we’d like the people around us to be mind readers, it’s better to specify exactly what you need. For example, you can say something like, “I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed right now – could you do baths and stories tonight?”
  • Foster friendships. Without family in the area, neighborhood friends became an invaluable lifeline while we were raising young kids. One way we carved out social time with friends: A group of moms would leave the kids with dads to catch a 7 p.m. movie, then we'd swap out so the dads could get to the 9:30 showing--a great mental health outing for everyone, without the expense of a babysitter.
  • Make “peace” and “quiet” part of your vocabulary. Get a hold of the children’s book Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy. Beyond being an entertaining read, it gives parents the chance to talk about the importance of “quiet thinking time” – for moms, dads and kids.
  • As your kids get older, check out A Moment's Peace for Parents of Teens for a recharging dose of daily time-out.

    When you’ve got tweens and teens…

  • Downshift if necessary. Are you keeping a “crazy busy” schedule because you truly want that pace for your family, or do you feel swept away by some invisible list of what families with school-aged kids are supposed to do? Be intentional in signing up for activities that add value to your family life and be okay with saying no to the rest.
  • Your kids wish you well. When Ellen Galinsky, President of the Families and Work Institute, asked 1,000 children ages 8 to 18 to identify one wish they had for their parents, the kids didn’t wish for more stuff or more time – they wished that their parents were less tired and less stressed. Protecting time in the day for rest and renewal isn’t just good for us – it means a lot to our kids too. After all, they’ll be adults themselves before long, and we want to have shown them how to do it well.
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    1. Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy, 1999, Puffin.

    2. CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life by Edward M. Hallowell, 2007, Ballantine Books.

    3. PBS interview with Ellen Galinsky.

    4. Image via lednichenkoolga on Flick'r.

    Great words of advice!

    Keep first aid kit, wet wipes, sick bags, change of clothes, toilet roll and liquid antibacterial soap together in an easily accessible place in the car cabin so they are readily available in case of car sickness, spillages, accidents or unplanned toilet stops! Have a rubbish bag handy in the car as well as some large sealable sandwich bags which can be used for storing snacks, small toys and crayons. When driving at night try simulating sleeptime by changing the children into their pyjamas, pillow, slippers and blanket. You can then either read them a bedtime story or put on an audio tape to settle them down for the night. Get more tips at :

    I love what you said about self-care not being selfish, and that children want their parents to be less stressed.

    The following worksheet with written for teachers, but parents may find it of value: “Coping with Stress…” at

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