Becoming a parent flips your self-care routine upside down, and it requires us to become more creative and flexible about our wellness. As a marriage and family therapist who had a solid self-care routine in place for years before becoming a parent, I was humbled by how overwhelming and exhausting my transition into motherhood was. Many of my go-to self-care practices were not accessible the first year of motherhood, and it took me a long time to figure out how to adjust my self-care so that it was both nourishing and practical.
Making time, when it feels like there is no time, for self-care isn’t easy. Parenting can be meaningful, joyful, and rewarding–but, it’s also hard work and it takes a tremendous amount of energy. Despite all of the challenges that come with your time no longer being your own, there are ways to make your self-care non-negotiable as a parent.
7 Ways to Make Your Self-Care Non-Negotiable:
Schedule self-care in your calendar. Scheduling self-care time increases the likelihood that you will follow through and use that time for yourself. Even if you don’t have a plan with friends or an appointment to go to, you can block out free time. Especially if it’s free time or me-time, shift your mindset to view that date with yourself as you would an important meeting at work or a medical appointment for your child. As self-care author and psychologist Suzy Reading says, “self-care is health care.” Taking time on a regular basis to tend to your mental and physical wellness is a way to proactively invest in your health.
Enlist an accountability partner. You are more likely to show up for your self-care plans if you’re meeting a friend or loved one, because we want to be reliable. This might look like a fun class together, date night and more! This tip is taking the idea of writing down your goals to the next level, and it increases your chances of reaching your self-care goal by over ninety percent. You can use this self-care goals worksheet that asks you to identify an accountability partner.
Embrace tiny self-care habits. BJ Fogg’s book, Tiny Habits is all about the powerful impact that small behaviors can have on our lives. Fogg’s book features sample wellness habits for caregivers and working parents, such as: making yourself a cup of tea after you finish dinner, leaving your water bottle by the door at night so it’s ready for you take on your way out the door, or taking two deep breaths after you wake up in the morning. Fogg also emphasizes the importance of celebrating your tiny self-care habit success in the moment by patting yourself on the back or throwing imaginary confetti. This immediate reinforcement that he calls shine helps to wire a positive feeling into your brain related to the habit, which encourages you to keep going with your self-care routine.
Create a self-care kit. Create a self-care box, shelf or nook in your home so that you have visual cues throughout the day to pause and remember that your needs matter in addition to the needs of your child. Self-care items might include encouraging quotes/art, meaningful photos, diffusers, lotion, scented eye pillows, books, and whatever else you associate with nourishment.
Using tech to your advantage. So many of us have a love-hate relationship with technology, but there are intentional ways to use it to meet our goals. First, release guilt about allowing your kids to safely enjoy screen time so you can have breaks. Secondly, parents of younger kids often get pockets of self-care time at night when all they can do is use a device with headphones in so they don’t wake up their kids. Instead of defaulting into scrolling mode, take time to make a list of nourishing tech that you can turn to help you relax. You can use this worksheet to create a list of nourishing apps, podcasts and more.
Ask for help. No one can do it alone, and many parents are living farther away from familial support systems. Create the village you need to be able to care for yourself. If you parent with a partner, give each other regular self-care time. Consider hiring a babysitter or looking for gyms or businesses with low-cost or free childcare options. Work on building community with other families, so you can trade off watching each other’s kids so you can each have more self-care time. It can be helpful to overestimate how much help you need because most parents end up wishing they had more support, and you don’t often hear parents complaining about having too much self-care time!
Family self-care. Lastly, think about self-care practices you can do with your kids, because it helps to model healthy coping skills for your children in addition to making parenting more manageable and fun. You can have dance parties to boost mood, try children's yoga programs to promote relaxation and use affirmation cards for kids to help the entire family practice compassionate self-talk. Plan a playdate with parents that you enjoy connecting with, and be sure to incorporate family activities that you enjoy instead of automatically defaulting to what your child would prefer.
A big part of shifting your self-care routine after having kids is grieving the loss of the free time you had before kids. You can love your kids fiercely and also miss parts of your life before becoming a mother.
“True self-care is figuring out what works for you, and honoring what your needs are, working within your limitations.” - Fariha Róisín
Grief and change are not something you can sit down and finish processing at once. Processing the mixed emotions that accompany your new identity as a parent takes time, but there are always some things you can do during each season of parenthood to claim time and nourishment for yourself.
Self-Care Books and Workbooks:
Self-Care 101: Self-Care Inspiration for Busy Parents by Kristi Yeh
The Self-Care Investment: Your Guide to Making Your Self-Care Non-Negotiable by G. Michelle Goodloe
Self-Care SMART Goals Worksheet (features an accountability partner question)
Scrolling Alternatives Worksheet featuring over 15 nourishing apps, podcasts and TED Talks
About the Author:
Kristi Yeh is a parent of two, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and the founder of Parent Self-Care. She currently works in school-based mental health at a public elementary and middle school. A part of Kristi’s role entails discussing self-care with parents. Kristi is also the author of, Self-Care 101: Self-Care Inspiration for Busy Parents. Check out all of Kristi’s free resources on the Parent Self-Care and connect with her on Instagram @parentselfcare.