When I hear that I 'should' be prioritising self care, I am immediately triggered! It doesn't come naturally to me and I feel shamed that I am not taking time for myself and then become irritated with those around me for not supporting me in taking time for myself. So the cycle goes.
The reason for self care is a sound theory though. When we have access to like-minded support we can take time for ourselves long before a burnout happens. Engaging in soul nourishing activities (which are different for everyone) such as reading, sewing, knitting, hobbies, walking, hiking, running, cycling, yoga, meditation, sleeping in, taking a nap, taking a bath, playing a sport, meeting friends, spa day etc. all help us reach calm regulation of the nervous system and un-frazzle ourselves from prioritising the needs of our little ones. Peace and re-energising looks different to each individual, therefore there is no pressure to choose a run when that would be stressful - just to tick a box of self care.
In today's parenting we are unlikely to have access to a village, sometimes even friends or family. Especially when we are treading a parenting path that differs from those around us. The journey can be isolating, sometimes hard, emotionally draining, immune response depleting, sleep depriving and challenging for our nervous system, and humans were not designed to parent in isolation. Quite often parents will turn to employing a childminder, sending their children to day care as young as possible and eventually school to help them manage their time better and to assist them in raising their children.
When we don't have the support around us, what can we do to make time?
We all experience different circumstances throughout parenthood. Not all of these ideas will be viable and that's ok. We each make our own decisions as to what works for us.
Before our children wake up
Whilst our children are napping (nap with them)
When our children have gone to sleep
Take childcare turns with our parent friends - we can be in the same proximity or not. For example, our friend takes the lead, we are around but perhaps taking time off being the 'present' parent
Include our children in our mindful activities - walks in nature, yoga (particularly when they are babies or old enough to partake)
Children playing alongside our activities - this may take some time to become a comfortable practice for the child and the adult
Have a designated time or day when our partners take responsibility for the children
Children playing alongside our activities
This may be a new idea for some and an established integral practice for others. The concept is to play with our children and give them enough attention to fill up their need for connection. Prepare them for the upcoming activity with explanation of what we will be doing (yoga, phone call, reading etc.) with all of the boundaries required (e.g. no interruptions, no climbing on me etc). Then set the child / children up with whatever they think they will want to play with for the duration, including any drinks and snacks. A timer can be set (if necessary) so that the children can feel more in control of when the session will finish. It is surprising how possible this is, even with younger children. The key is playing beforehand to fulfil their contact needs.
Initially it can be hard for children if this practice hasn't been introduced relatively early on, but with practice and perseverance each activity can become longer. It would be advisable not to try this practice for the first time when you have something really important to do, as the potential for being overwhelmed and getting stressed on both parts will make future sessions more difficult.
As children, we had developmental rights and often those rights would have been ignored, crushed and even shamed. One of these rights is the right to have needs. For example leaving a baby to cry because the belief that the baby will become manipulative if its crying is always quickly responded to. The reality is the baby's only method of communication is crying and ignoring those needs can start the belief within the baby that their needs are not met and therefore they are not worthy. As the child grows into an adult those beliefs are ingrained. If our parents did not respect and respond to our early needs it can have profound impacts on the way we manage our adult lives. It can manifest into ignoring our own needs and a compulsion to be caring and helpful and prioritising other's needs. It does not come from a place of fullness, it comes from the empty clinging of childhood in a desperate attempt to retain attachments / relationships.
We are modelling how our children will treat themselves in the future, which is why it is so important to make the space for ourselves, showing them we are making the space and even sharing with them why we are doing this for ourselves. As children grow they increase their capacity for empathy and their understanding that others have needs, and to respect others' needs as well as their own.