Self Care for Parents

By Giulia Pecone, MSW, SWC

Imagine holding your breath for several minutes. Can you do it? What happens when you try? You stop breathing, that’s it. You hold your breath and you stop breathing. With an inhale must come an exhale. Simple concept, right? In theory, yes, but in reality, taking the exhale is often the hardest part.

Here we are, in a pandemic with our children. We are either having to work remotely or we may have lost our job, we cannot take our children to school or play dates or even the indoor trampoline parks where our kids can run free. Our world is isolated and our emotional states are fragile. How do we survive as parents? How do we survive as humans? For one, we have to learn to stop holding our breath.

As a parent of two small children, I find that I’m dysregulated many days trying to navigate emotions, behaviors, and uncontrollable closures around me. My children, especially my 5 year old, don’t understand why their lives look so different right now. I’m not sure how to cope myself some days, so helping my own child cope has been a true test of my human resilience. I’ve made countless mistakes and have raised my voice. I threaten to take away toys, TV, visits to our grandparent’s home, and crucial activities I’ve found I rely on just to maintain our peace. I become desperate in these moments, knowing that when I make these threats, they will end up being empty, and no one is actually learning from them. So I stop, I go to my room and sit on my bed, and I breathe. Many times I cry, because I’m desperate in my feelings of sadness and disappointment. I exhale, something I wasn’t doing when I made that threat to take my child’s toys away.

I have not mastered the skill of self care, but it is a crucial part of the compassionate parenting puzzle. If I’m not breathing, no one else in my home is. Does this mean I shouldn’t discipline or teach my children about consequence related to action? No. This just means that if I actually care for myself more often, if I actually take time to exhale, I’m less reactive when having to speak to consequences. The consequences then make sense and we can recover from the circumstance much smoother. I stop threatening, I stop locking myself in my room crying on my bed feeling like a terrible parent. The more time I take to regulate myself, the easier it is to teach my child to regulate.

Self care is an important part of our survival. If you walked the desert with no water, would you be able to complete the journey? You wouldn’t, so why do we skip our self care as if it’s not a crucial part of our livelihood? Self care can look many ways, and is specific to each individual. For me, this is exercise, mindful walks with podcasts or music, hiring a babysitter one night a week so that I can have some alone time, and naming when I’m having a feeling.

If we want to teach regulation, we have to model this. And modeling does not require perfection, it requires humanness. It requires we are honest about how we feel and what we need, and when we start to honor this, our children will mirror the same.

We can’t change a pandemic and the constant ups and downs it brings, but we can take a minute to exhale and care for ourselves. We can prioritize our self care so that we can teach our children to do the same.

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