As one boards an airplane, the safety instructions are clear: put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. The same message is true in parenting: a parent must take care of their own needs in order to be an effective parent. By neglecting their own needs, a parent can become stressed, exhausted and irritable. In these circumstances, a parent might still provide for their child’s physical needs (i.e. feeding and dressing), but might not have the emotional resources to be empathic and meet the child’s emotional needs. It is important for the parent to balance their own needs with those of their child.
Self-care starts with the parent sleeping well, eating a balanced diet and exercising. Certainly this is easier said than done, but these are important life skills that you want to model for your child as well.
Try to find some time during each day to do something you enjoy. If you had a hobby or a special interest before you became a parent, try to find a way to resume this activity. For example, a parent who enjoyed gardening can expose their child to this activity as well or, alternatively, garden while their child is doing something else nearby.
It is also important to have some time alone: even reading or listening to music for ten minutes per day can be a welcome break and an opportunity to meet one’s own needs.
Social support is also very important for parents. Whether it is socializing with friends on the weekend, having lunch with a co-worker at work or attending a family function, plan events that allow you to interact with the people you enjoy. You can also plan special events as a family (i.e. a picnic), as a couple (i.e. a date), and with your child (i.e. going to a museum).
In a parent’s busy life, amongst their responsibilities to the child, family, work, etc. it might be difficult to allocate time to one’s own needs. Possible solutions might be to include the child in one’s own interests (i.e. gardening) or to find people to look after the child (i.e. the other parent, grandparents, friends, babysitter, etc.).
A parent might experience a sense of guilt or shame for choosing to meet their own needs instead of those of their child. However, by taking care of their own needs, not only will the parent become more emotionally available to their child, but they would also model to their child that self-care is important. By learning the art of balancing being a parent and meeting one’s own needs will result in one becoming a better parent by being more positive, relaxed and emotionally available to their child.