Making Time for Yourself

We cannot give what we do not have. Self-care is the foundation for caring about others.
—Judith A. Graham, University of Maine human developmental specialist

As a parent, you know that your life is no longer your own. You’re helping children grow up well. To do that well, you also need to take care of yourself. Here’s how.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Find ways to integrate your personal interests into your life. Even if you don’t have time to play your favorite instrument, you can still listen to music.
    • Know that there will be times when parenting is overwhelming and stressful. That’s true for all parents. You’re not alone.
    • Pace yourself. Parenting is not a sprint. It’s a marathon (and maybe more like a triathlon). You need time to unwind, even if only for a few minutes.
    • Keep track of your overall demeanor. Do you feel energized and excited—or exhausted and drained? You’ll parent better when you feel energized.
    • Cut yourself some slack. Our society has very high expectations of parents. Most parents are doing the best they can. You don’t have to be the perfect parent.
    • Get to know other parents who have children the same age as yours. Talk about what you’re going through. It helps you feel less alone.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Parenting young children often feels like a 24/7/365 job. There’s always something to attend to, and you can never let your guard down. This unrelenting intensity usually slowly diminishes as children get older, so hang in there. For more tips, read Self-Care Tips for New Parents.
    • Let some things go when kids are young. Don’t expect to have as clean of a house as you had before kids. You can clean the house well after your kids are grown.
    • Read about the 14 self-care topics from sleep deprivation to personal purpose in the book Parenting Preschoolers with a Purpose.
    • Find other trusted adults who can occasionally give you a break. Having someone watch your child for a few hours can give you some respite—even if you spend the entire time napping.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Set boundaries on how many activities that your children are involved in (and how intense those activities are). If you have a lot of kids (three or more), you could spend your entire life transporting them from activity to activity and never having time for yourself—or your family. Find a balance.
    • Encourage your child to have play dates. Invite one of your child’s friends over for a few hours. Even though you need to monitor them well, the play date can give you a bit of a break.
    • If you’re a single parent, connect with other single parents and figure out ways to give each parent a break from time to time. If you have a partner, make sure each partner is pitching in so that one person isn’t doing all the parenting—and all the housework.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Set guidelines for the noise level in your house. As kids enter puberty, then tend to blast loud (and often unsettling) music. They bang on drums. They play electric guitars and keyboards. Give them the chance to express themselves, but also set limits so that you (and the neighbors) have some quiet time.
    • It can be tempting as kids get older to leave them for longer periods of time (which sometimes may be okay). But young teenagers can be adept at hiding some of the trouble they’re getting into. So find small ways to take care of yourself (such as reading a favorite book) while also monitoring what they’re up to.
    • Find physical ways to take care of yourself that also help you to release some pent-up emotion, such as exercising. Parenting preteens and teens can be hard on parents, so it’s helpful to hit a tennis ball, go for a jog, or punch a pillow at times.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • While older teenagers are more independent, they also can get themselves into some difficult situations that aren’t always easy to get out of. Pace yourself when these challenges arise. You need to be a caring, involved, and firm parent, and you also need to take care of yourself when stress levels get high. Consider getting together with a friend or listening to your favorite music. Read the previous newsletter When Parenting Makes Your Head Spin.
    • It’s okay to daydream about the day when your older teenager leaves home. Think about what you’d like to do for yourself. Depending on how involved your teenager is, the high-school years can be intense with activity.
    • If your child plans to go to college, vocational school, or some other type of school after high school, pace yourself with the long list of tasks to help them get there. Yes, teenagers can do a number of these steps on their own, but most cannot do them all. As you help your teenager find his or her next steps, find ways to take new ones yourself, such as taking a community education class or dusting off an old instrument.

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