/ The Daisy Foundation with Lesley Doig

A baby in hindsight: Self-care as a parent

So, I wanted to address something that I come across a lot when speaking to parents.

Self-care!

Now different people will have different views about what this means, and that definition can change over time. At one point in your life, it may have been going away for the weekend to a spa, later it might change to having a poo without anyone knocking on the door. Ah, sweet parenthood.

But should this dramatic shift happen, and what does it mean for us?

Mental health, and our awareness of its importance, has definitely become more of a conversation as time goes on. We are now very aware of why we need to hold space for ourselves, and the consequences of not taking care of our own mental health.

So why is it, that when we become a parent, the expectations we have on achievable self-care drastically decreases?

When I speak to people, I am often struck by the overwhelming workload that the primary caregiver takes on. I am honestly shocked sometimes at the uneven distribution of downtime between the two parents. And to be clear, this is not a dig at the other parent. I feel that this is a consequence of the vastly unrealistic expectations that society puts upon the primary caregiver. Historically, parenting has not been a team effort, but with the change in modern-day living, this is something that needs to happen. It’s also not about being aggressive, it’s about being assertive about what you need. Conversations need to happen so that the home workload and the management of the house doesn’t fall to one parent.

My husband and I also try and distribute the management and workload of the house. We discuss what is needing done and write lists on our calendar. We then divide that, taking into account whatever other commitments we have on that week, including our time for self-care. And we do not get upset if they are not all completed. Life happens and things will get done when they are done.

So, with the pressure of: you need to look after your child, you need to work, you need to keep a happy home, you need to keep a clean home, you need to look presentable, you need to wear makeup, you need to do your hair nice…

Where is, “You need to take care of you”?

It is so important that we take care of ourselves first. Yes, even before our children. Think of it like if the plane is crashing, you are told to put your own mask on first before your child. Why? Because you can’t help your child, if you can’t breathe!

If you are drowning in the expectations of society and don’t take time for you to recharge, how can you be the best parent for your child? When you are tired and feeling empty, how can you be expected to give your child energy?

Both parents need space. Both parents need time. Both parents need to support each other in giving this space to each other. And that time needs to be safeguarded, protected and honoured by both parties.

If you’re a single parent, then finding a person you trust, be it family or friend, that can help you honour your time is also so important.

Talk to your partner or support network too. Let them know you are feeling overwhelmed. Ensure you are supported and ensure you support them. Make it very clear from the get go that you need that time for you. And don’t feel guilty about it. And be honest with your kids too; they understand more than you know. There is nothing wrong with taking a duvet day in front of the tv with the kids; snacking and recharging.

For myself, I have always been very explicit with my partner about what I need for the protection of my mental health. And through me and my own safe-guarding, he has started to recognise his own needs for self-care, which look very different. For me, it’s a peaceful bubble bath or time to play my video games. For my husband, it’s going for a lone walk or run, being outdoors with his own thoughts. So we both ensure that we both get that time. We support each other and encourage each other to take that time. We offer up taking care of the children but we also ask each other for that time-

That is key!

Don’t expect anyone else to gift you that time: ASK. They are probably unaware of your needs. No-one can actually read your mind and can you honestly say that you know your own mind all of the time? So: ask for it, demand it, ensure you take it and ensure it is true to your own needs.

So go forth and increase those expectations of self-care from lone toilet-going to whatever you truly need to feel whole again. You deserve the time. You need the time. Take the time!