Mother Yourself: How 3 Daily Micro Practices Can Transform Your Parenting Experience
Do you roll your eyes when people preach self-care as you struggle just to get through each day? As I sat down to run a workshop for a parent support group, I asked them “What are your thoughts about self-care?” Their answers ranged from “It seems so selfish,” and “I just don’t have the time… maybe some other day,” to “yeah right… bath bombs and dinner dates just don’t fit into my life,” and “knowing all I should be doing to take care of myself makes me even more stressed!” These same basic themes come up ALL the time. And I GET it. When we were at the peak of struggles in my family, I was in full-on survival mode. The idea of looking after my own well-being wasn’t even a glimmer in the back of my mind.
Why Parent Well-being Matters
Raising kids who face challenges - with neurobehavioral issues, developmental differences, mental health concerns, and other special health care needs - can be amazing but potentially hazardous. Research shows that parents in this boat experience more stress, illness, anxiety, depression and sleep disruption than other parents. Compassion fatigue, burnout and secondary trauma are real looming threats.
A New Way to Think About Self-Care
Given the realities, it’s time to think about self-care in a new way. Not only do we have to get past the practical and invented barriers we create, but also the concept that depleting ourselves somehow does our kids a favor! If you’re not nurturing yourself in body, mind, and spirit, how can you be the patient, connected and compassionate parent you need to be? Child well-being truly starts with parent well-being.
So, if self-care is vital, how do we make it possible? When I got my wake-up call, I had no choice but to figure that out. Chronic parental stress had made my stress response immune to the signals. I had almost no more cortisol (an important stress hormone) and I was wiped out. That kind of fatigue was like nothing I’d ever known. Something HAD to change.
What I realized is that I needed to make self-care a priority, and the only way to do that was to make tiny tweaks to my habits and gentle shifts in my mindset - every day.
Shifting to Daily Micro-Actions
Imagine taking a whole tool box of self-care strategies and reducing them to micro actions. For example, you might not be able to get to a yoga class or the gym, but you can take the stairs to your child’s appointment or try a short YouTube video (I love Yoga with Adrienne). You might not be able to get a massage, but you can release a lot of tension on a foam roller or by massaging your feet with a tennis ball.
A few adjustments in your thinking can make an impact too. For example, try to notice something good about your child each day, instead of getting obsessed over what you wish you could change. Create some distance from your inner critic by giving them a name and keeping that pest at bay. Try offering yourself the same care and compassion you would offer a close friend. Recalling reasons to be grateful is also a proven way to enhance your well-being.
And let’s look at your intake. Staying hydrated is a simple act of self-care that I know you can do. Get yourself a refillable bottle and make it your friend. Are you skipping meals, only to gorge on carbs in the mid-afternoon for a burst of much-needed energy? We lovingly prepare meals for our kids and stuff snacks in the car to make sure they don’t get ‘hangry’… but what about you? How about packing some almonds - for yourself? Keep them in your purse so you aren’t running on fumes.
Many parents feel isolated when their kids struggle, but seeking support is one of the most powerful ways you can care for yourself. Maybe you can’t get away for a weekend with your friends, but you can reach out for a quick talk or text conversation. Find someone who seems to be on a similar path and share something about your life - or offer a compliment. There’s nothing more healing than connecting with another parent who truly understands.
How about sleep? It might be the easiest thing to cut, but it happens to be one of the best ways to feel like a new person. Try getting to bed 15 minutes earlier and see if you notice a difference the next day. If you need help winding down, rest your legs up the wall for a few minutes before bed or take a bath with 2 cups of Epsom salts. Your body absorbs some of the magnesium which helps you relax. If your child’s needs disrupt your sleep, try taking turns with your partner or finding a trusted family member, friend or caregiver who can give you an occasional night of respite.
Make It Little, but Do It Often
Self-care doesn’t have to be big to be effective. If you think of an airplane making a slight vector change, it will end up in a very different place. You can start by writing down 3 micro actions on a Post it Note that you intend to try each day. Throw out the rules about all the self-care you “should” be doing, and just pick 3 micro actions that resonate with you. Because it’s personal. Everyone has different needs. Your self-care should be about what nurtures you.
When you rethink your approach to self-care in this way, you’ll find that it is actually doable. In my own case, this micro action approach was magical. As I experimented with what worked for me and practiced with consistency, I started to notice a change. Instead of getting caught in stress spirals and swept away in storms, I could tap a kind of inner calm and strength I’d never known was there. A few years later, my cortisol is pretty much back to where it should be.
I hope you take a moment to reflect on what you could do to take care of yourself and make note of your intentions. Be gentle with yourself. Parenting is hard, but it’s also an incredible growth process. If you don’t get to all 3 micro actions in a day, let it go and try again tomorrow. Restoring your own well-being is the greatest gift you can give your children.
At Wild Peace we call this the “3 for Me” approach to self-care. Give yourself permission to practice!
Please share your micro actions ideas with #3forMe
Let’s lift each other. Because parent well-being matters!