When all the parents on our staff were asked; "Is parenting what you expected?" The resounding answer was a "NO WAY"! As much as we wish that those late nights spent reading parenting books could have prepared us, they just didn't. Every parent is different, every child is different, and every experience parenting differs so greatly - especially if you are raising a child who struggles with their mental health. The only consensus we got was that for everyone we asked - it was absolutely NOT what they expected.
That is why how our weekly podcast; This is Not What I Was Expecting was born. It is a group of real-life parents whose children struggle with their mental health, all sitting down to talk about it. They delve into the trials and tribulations of their journeys with humor, honesty, and unwavering support. Through these heartfelt conversations, they connect not only with each other but also with our dedicated listeners, providing a sense of community and understanding.
While our regular podcast episodes drop every Tuesday, we are taking a summer break throughout the month of July. Now is the perfect opportunity to catch up on our previous episodes, such as this one, where we explore the vital topic of practicing self-care amidst the chaos of parenting.
In this episode of the podcast Melisa, Cheryl, and Christina sit down with our producer Brewer to talk all things parental self-care. Self-care is a term we often hear but putting it into practice can be challenging. Life has a way of throwing us off track, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, especially parents who are raising children who struggle with their mental health. Melissa highlights this struggle, saying, "We use the word self-care a lot, but how do we put that into practice? When you start dealing with all the little fires, it becomes tough to make myself a priority and not feel guilty about it."
If you haven't had time in your busy schedule to check out this podcast yet - don't worry! We've listed out the key takeaways from the conversation about how you can start the difficult process of infusing self care into your own life.
Recognizing the Need for Self-Care
Cheryl emphasized the distinction between family time and true self-care. “I struggle with thinking my self-care should include my children - and that's not really self-care. It's enjoyable and I love the family time but it's not just alone time just for me - which is the point of self-care.” She went on to say that she thinks being alone and refreshing oneself is the essence of self-care. Brewer agreed, emphasizing the rejuvenating power of alone time. "At the end of the day, being alone is so refreshing," he affirms.
Melissa added that neglecting self-care can diminish creativity, drive, and overall well-being. She emphasized that self-care doesn't have to be extravagant; it can be as simple as taking 15 minutes a few times a day to gather your thoughts and breathe. She suggests using moments like appointments or arriving early to create brief periods of solitude. "It doesn't have to cost money. Lock the bathroom door, set a timer, and let your family know you need this time for yourself. My carwash takes 8 minutes. I have those 8 minutes of peace; no I don't need you to go with me I can go alone. I timed it because it's my time. When you get an opportunity to be alone in the car count those minutes. Give yourself credit." she explains.
Embracing Moments of Pause
Cheryl described her approach as taking a pause. She acknowledged that initially, she struggled with the idea that brief periods were insufficient. However, she discovered that even 15 minutes of solitude can be remarkably helpful. “I used to get caught up on the fact that 15 minutes, or any brief time is not enough. I used to think there was no point but it's true it's so important. When I can go for a drive with myself and my music - I need it. I tell my husband I need to go to the supermarket. He will joke that it was a long grocery store trip, but I laugh and tell him I needed it.”
Christina, a single mom, reflects on the challenges of finding downtime. She shifted her mindset from needing extended breaks to appreciating 10–15-minute increments throughout the day. She believes that waiting times during her children's extracurricular activities or therapy sessions can be repurposed for self-care. We take our kids to all these extra-curriculars so maybe that can be time for ourselves. If you usually drop them off and run home and make dinner maybe change it up. It's always a good idea to stay with your kid anyway in case something happens so stay and sit in your car and have that time to yourself if you can. Especially if there isn’t a parent social aspect to the event. Like when your kids are in therapy instead of waiting in that awkward waiting room reading the 3-year-old magazine that everyone and their brother has touched. That could be a great time to be alone in your car."
Cheryl agreed completely and remarked that if she isn’t currently needed in her daughter’s therapy appointment, she will sit in her car to relax. This allows her to be quickly accessible if needed while also letting her detach for a moment.
Reframing Self-Care and Overcoming Perfectionism
Melissa shared her experience as a lifelong caretaker, always prioritizing others' needs. She realized the importance of avoiding burnout and actively scheduling self-care. "When I can feel myself headed towards burnout I know I need to do something. So I say; "Okay, I don't want to feel that way so I am going to schedule self care. I am not just saying it - it's on the schedule and everything can move around it. And nothing is going to happen, nothing is going to happen if I take a little time to do something for myself."
Melissa also highlighted the significance of saying no and setting boundaries. "No is a full sentence. It's okay to say no without giving a lengthy explanation. You can't overfill your plate." she asserts.
Cheryl adds that self-care doesn't have to conform to traditional notions like getting nails done or taking bubble baths. For her, self-care is about giving her brain a break. “Something that used to make me avoid making time for self-care was that I put way too much pressure on myself for what I was doing during self-care. In my younger years I loved to write so I would sit down and think that I was returning to my poetic days and that writing would be relaxing to me now too. But it was stressful to me, it wasn't relaxing anymore. I didn't need to think I needed to give my brain a break. During the pandemic I switched to coloring. It is mindless enough where I can pop my headphones in and listen to music. My son can be occupied by coloring too and I can just zone out and still have something I feel nice about at the end. I like a nice product at the end but it's not taking that mental energy. I needed a pause.” said Cheryl.
Christina agreed and took reframing self-care a step further. “For me that self-care isn't always getting your nails done. Sometimes it's putting reminders in my calendar to pay my bills. Sometimes self-care is taking care of the things that will cause future me stress. I learned the hard way that even if you don't open the mail because you know you don't have money to pay the bill, it is still chasing after you. If you open it up and make a plan you know where you're at. That stress and fear makes everything worse. Give future you one less thing to worry about."
"When my kids got older and they would go with their dad for the weekend, I would use a chunk of that time to get the house clean, go grocery shopping, get the laundry done, and get some meals prepped for the week. I always thought of it as paying myself. Making my life a little easier for the week, knowing it would be a couple of weeks until they went again. Then when they were home I had way less to worry about. Self care could be a lot of different things just think of it as peace of mind. But again, don't be all or nothing. Just because you got a lot of stuff done that doesn't take the place of relaxing in your own way.I would balance my time while they were gone by spending the day running household errands and going out to dinner with my friends at night."
Modeling Self-Care and Normalizing Prioritization
Christina believes it's crucial for parents to model self-care behaviors and communicate openly with their children. She suggests using specific phrases like "I need 15 minutes to myself," while setting a timer to demonstrate the importance of self-care. Christina emphasizes that prioritizing self-care as a parent can be challenging but is essential for overall well-being.
Self-care is different for everyone, and you need to find a cadence and some activities that makes you feel prioritized. By reframing self-care and overcoming perfectionism, you can try and let go of guilt and prioritize your well-being without feeling selfish. Setting boundaries, saying no, and communicating openly about the importance of self-care can create a healthier and more balanced family dynamic.