This is Part 10 in a multi-week series of blogs focused on the ABC’s of Healthy Kids. Learn more at www.snohd.org/healthykids.
Top Three Take-Aways:
- Your mental and emotional wellness matters. The mental health of parents and guardians impacts the mental and physical health of children.
- Finding time for self-care can be challenging. Making spare moments count each day can make a big difference.
- Ask for help. There is no shame in needing support – most parents and caregivers do.
Take a break
I have a favor to ask: Please pause in reading this and take a few deep breaths.
The rest of this blog is still here. You could pause again for a few more breaths, or maybe to stand up and stretch, or just to close your eyes for moment.
It will all still be here when you open your eyes. It’s OK to take a break.
In fact, a break is more than OK. You need it, and you deserve it.
Parenting can be stressful. It can also be joyous, rewarding and delightfully crazy-making. However, the stress is real, and we don’t always talk about it or allow ourselves the time and space to take care of our own mental and emotional health.
So this piece about keeping your kids healthy is actually all about caring for yourself.
Unsurprisingly, research shows that parents’ and guardians’ mental health impacts children’s mental and physical health. The mental and emotional wellbeing of moms, dads, and other caregivers is important.
In the key developmental years of infancy, childhood and all the way into young adulthood, your children are learning from you. Taking care of yourself helps ensure you have the mental and emotional capacity to be there for them, too.
Remember, you’re modeling the practices you want them to learn, including how to interact with others and how to cope with failures, losses, or big feelings.
There is nothing wrong with admitting when something is wrong. You can ask for time and space. That’s a fair request when you are angry, grieving, overwhelmed or experiencing any other big feelings of your own. We know you won’t always be able to get all of the time and space you’d like, especially with children around, but it’s important to make enough room in your life for self-care.
Find strategies that work for you, whether it is deep breathing, exercise, or a hobby that helps center you. You aren’t the only one who will benefit – your family will, too.
Make spare moments count
A typical day for parents or caregivers often doesn’t include a lot of down time. It’s normal to wrap up a long workday only to find high-energy children and chores that didn’t manage to do themselves while you were working. Or maybe you’re trying to bundle up the youngest and load the diaper bag while the oldest wrestles with their soccer cleats, only 5 minutes before you’ll be late for practice. Or perhaps your child is going through something traumatic, and you find yourself pushing aside your own struggles so you can be their anchor in the storm.
It’s often go-go-go, both physically and emotionally.
So the odds of being able to set aside a large chunk of time every day for self-care are understandably low.
It’s still important to find or make opportunities for some long, uninterrupted stretches of “you” time. As for the day-to-day, though, start making the most of whatever spare moments you have.
You may feel the need to fill short stretches of free time with another task. But that time belongs to you, and you don’t always have to give it up to meet other demands.
Mindfully using those few minutes between tasks might be exactly what you need.
What are some simple things that help you unwind? Consider:
- Closing your eyes while you listen to your favorite song
- A deep-breathing routine – breathe in so your whole chest fills up, hold for a few seconds, slowly release, then repeat.
- Take a short walk, even if it’s just down the hall or around the block
- Step outside
- Read a snippet of a story that sparks your imagination
- Sketch or doodle, just for fun
The truth is, though we’re talking about “spare” moments, your time is precious and there are only so many minutes in a day. Caring for children demands a lot of that precious resource. Make sure you leave enough to care for yourself, too.
Ask for help
If you are struggling with parenting, you are not alone. It’s not unusual to experience mental health challenges while pregnant, shortly after birth, and even years later as mothers, fathers and caregivers face both the joys and challenges that come with parenting.
Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help.
There are many avenues to consider, so pick the ones that are right for you:
- Lean on a loved one. Open up to a friend or family member you trust to support you. Look for someone who will listen and who makes you feel safe in expressing yourself.
- Join a group. There are a variety of parenting or caregiver groups you might be interested in. You may find these through community centers, faith-based organizations, schools or sports/activities, prenatal or maternity care, or specific support and outreach, such as parents whose children have special needs.
- Talk to a professional. Mental health care is important. A counselor or therapist can help you work on your wellness and address specific mental health concerns.
- Support lines. There are multiple mental health or crisis support lines that may be helpful for parents.
Take some time now to check off the “J” in the ABC’s for healthy kids. Have you taken time to just breathe?
Your mental health matters for the health of your children. Make time to take care of yourself.