Health & Well-being

Mama, you're doing great

Parenting Place Self Care

Hey there you doing the invaluable work of raising the next generation, we just wanted to tell you how amazing you are. Seriously, you’re incredible. But we’re parents too, and we get it – some days can really get us questioning our competency.

Parenting is hard work. It’s relentless, draining and exhausting. And the pay in monetary terms is dismal. But we’re not going to dwell on any of that, because we understand this reality too – none of us signed up for parenting for the cushy hours and lucrative pay packets.

Parenting is a sacred privilege and we’re honoured to be here. But we’re tired at times, and overwhelmed at others. We’re desperate to be the best version of ourselves for our children, so long as the mess of big feelings, sticky surfaces and scattered Lego doesn’t derail us.

So, in the spirit of keeping on track, we’ve been thinking about what we all really need when it comes to self-care and support. We know that we can’t pour from an empty cup, and that putting on our own oxygen mask first is pivotal to meeting the needs of our families, but the cliches tend to lack some practical steps...

In a nutshell, because we know time is a luxury you probably don’t have much of, here’s the gist of this article: take care of yourself, be kind to yourself.

In a nutshell, because we know time is a luxury you probably don’t have much of, here’s the gist of this article: take care of yourself, be kind to yourself. Oh great, we hear even ourselves saying, more things to do. But these are good things, we promise – and very good for us!

More self-care (but less self-indulgence)

Self-care gets a lot of airtime these days, and it’s packaged up as all things lovely – from designer candles to day spa mini breaks. Like many good things in life, self-care has been commercialised. Clever marketing now presents an image of self-care that has moved away from things that are genuinely and holistically good for us, and shifted the concept closer to luxury things that are nice, but potentially self-indulgent, not that helpful in the long run and beyond the reach of many of us anyway – especially in terms of time and money.

Instead, Dr Justin Coulson from Happy Families reminds us that self-care is taking time for personal growth and the development of true well-being. It looks like some very practical things, like dental and medical appointments, regular bedtimes, planning and decision making, learning new skills, practising a craft, reading a thought-provoking book, eating well and staying hydrated, spending time outside and getting regular exercise. Yes, massages, manicures and chocolate are all great things and have their place in our lives, but these tend to fall into the category of short-term fixes when it comes to our mental health and well-being, and true self-care has the bigger picture in mind.

The designer version of self-care can actually add pressure to parents, rather than do its intended work of de-stressing and relieving anxiety. Instead of putting pressure on ourselves to invest time and money in the commercialised version of self-care, we’d do better to direct our energies towards being intentional about our daily rhythms and habits, and to recreation that actually has a re-creation component to it, says Coulson (something creative or exercise that serves our physical health, for example).

Effective self-care also looks like being intentional about seeking out positive relationships and positive experiences, and investing our energy there. And positive experiences can be little things – a delicious cup of coffee, sunshine on your back while your toddler swings, walking to the letter box and discovering a parcel, an encouraging text from a friend, a relatable meme that makes you laugh out loud. These moments can pass by without the recognition they deserve, but when we stop to savour them, they can make even the greyest day more beautiful. Finding joy in lots of small things is a valuable (and free!) self-care technique, suggests Coulson.

Less pressure

A simple but highly effective thing we could all do for our well-being is to lower our expectations of ourselves. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be excellent parents, partners, workers, committee members, friends and family members. It’s is really difficult to juggle so many balls at once and we can get pretty wrapped up in meeting perceived expectations in all the different domains of our lives. But we need to remember what is really important, and that’s relationships. Much of the other stuff is just stuff.

And while we’re at it, it's very helpful to lower our expectations on our children. They’re only human too, and some days are going to go better than others. Most people, most of the time, are doing their best. Kids included. Children develop and master skills at their own pace too, so celebrate the moment and do your best to fend off that sneaky intruder Comparison.

More kind words

We know how powerful words of encouragement can be for our children. We’ve had loads of practise at speaking life into their little hearts by dropping a well-timed affirmation or two. But what about ourselves? Doubt, disapproval and discouragement can so easily be the voices in our own heads, but we can – and we should – push back with some truth. In a previous job, Kath made the following into fridge magnets to share with mothers she worked with. Feel free to copy and paste, print and publish – stick these on your mirror, your phone’s home screen, your coffee machine... With some thoughtful reframing, we can tune out our inner critic and lean back into the encouragement that good enough is good enough!

  • “There is grace for today, and strength for this moment”

  • “No matter how many mistakes I make, if my kids know they are loved, I have done well”

  • “Today I choose being present over being perfect”

  • “Motherhood can be hard. I can do hard things”

  • “Today I will be the type of person I want my children to become”

  • “I am not a perfect mother, but I am the perfect mother for my children”

Even though we try our best to be perfect, this is an impossible (an unnecessary) goal.

In their parenting resource No-Drama Discipline, Dr Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson remind parents that even though we try our best to be perfect, this is an impossible (an unnecessary) goal – it’s inevitable that we will make mistakes and then we’ll likely feel guilty. When those voices in our heads remind us of an interaction with our children that didn’t go so well, Siegel and Bryson suggest parents first take responsibility for their actions (e.g. losing our patience, saying something we regret), then make a repair with their child and then take steps to do better next time. Finally, they encourage parents to let go of their guilt, and this is the affirmation they invite parents to say to themselves:

I am a good parent. I forgive myself for what I did poorly in the past. I forgive myself for what I didn’t know. I forgive myself for being a work in progress. I am working on knowing better so I can do better. I am a good parent.

Authors

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.


Katherine Tarr

Katherine Tarr

Katherine is a Child and Family Psychologist with experience working in both the early intervention and education settings. She is part of our Programme Development team where she is responsible for researching and developing training programmes that will equip facilitators to deliver our courses to a high standard. Prior to training as a psychologist, Katherine was a high school teacher and an outdoor instructor. She has four primary school aged children and in their spare time the family enjoys having adventures in the outdoors.


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