Being a parent can be a rewarding and joyful experience but it can also bring about some challenges. It is often the case that parents put the needs of their children before they take care of themselves, but this is something that should go alongside each other, side by side. It can be difficult to give our all to our family if we are feeling exhausted. Looking after yourself and recharging your batteries is key in helping you and your family feel happier, confident and build stronger relationships.
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The importance of looking after yourself
You might have thought those sleepless nights were only something that happened when you had babies or toddlers, so finding yourself still stay awake can come as a shock. It’s a challenge, but it can be constructive or destructive. It can be as fascinating, energising and joyful as it is stressful and hard. What often makes the difference between struggling or managing is the attitude you bring to the situation. And whether you have a positive or a negative attitude frequently depends on whether you are prepared to look after yourselves as individuals and as a couple as well as look after everyone else. A strong relationship is the bedrock of a functioning family, so to being selfish occasionally and concentrating on the wellbeing of yourself and each other can often be essential.
If children are to get what they want and need from family it’s vital that parents look after their own needs too. Parents often spend all their time looking after everyone else in the family and leave themselves to last. Instead of being generous and helpful, however, this can become counter productive. It can be difficult and painful to give other people what they need if you feel nobody looks after you.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by competing needs in a family, especially if you have teenagers and younger children, all competing in their different ways for your attention and care. You have to learn not only the difficult skills of new ways of dealing with teenagers but how to dip from one level to the other in managing them at the same time as dealing with younger kids. Everyone’s cup can get emptied very quickly and sometimes never be filled up again. If you’re running on empty, you have nothing to give to yourself and nothing for the other important people in your life. This can leave you feeling worthless and useless, and all of you feeling rejected, resentful and angry.
Having demanding teenagers in the family can strain the relationship between partners. When they were little, you could send them to bed and get some time for yourselves. When they were small, you could often manage all the questions and demands and still have time to spend talking things through with your spouse. Now they’re teenagers, not only do they stay up and fill the house, and your attention, all the time but you may not have the mental resilience or agility to have anything left for your other half. To not only survive but thrive, a couple needs to make efforts to build their relationship and make it strong but also to make time to enjoy themselves, together and separately.
Banishing the guilt
Treating yourself and looking after yourself isn’t being selfish. It’s being aware that you’re important too and deserve to be cared for just as much as anyone else. Self-awareness means being in touch with our feelings and needs, it doesn’t mean not caring about other people. The better you feel, the better you can help other people feel too. You owe it to, yourself, your family and the others in your life to do things - even small things – to make yourself feel good. Every little treat helps to fill your cup so you’ve got something to give out.
Making time for yourself
Work out what helps you and set aside certain times in the day and week to fill your cup. If you’re having difficulty setting aside that time, ask yourself what gets in the way? All sorts of things can get in your way, either practical or emotional. Practical barriers may be lack of time or money, or anxieties about what your kids may get up to if you went out. Emotional barriers may be negative beliefs about your entitlement such as “I don’t deserve it” or “It’s selfish to think about my own needs”. Once you’ve identified the barriers, talk them through with the whole family to seek a solution. Letting other people know directly and clearly what you would enjoy and what we would like. "I" messages are an important tool in helping us to get our needs met, for example, "I would like you to help me with the chores".
Time for you
Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to relax or treat ourselves. Even very small things we can do for ourselves can help us. The benefits will be that we relax, charge our batteries, feel better about ourselves and our family, feel better about life and more able to cope. Nurturing ourselves helps us take better care of our children. Sit down and work out what might really help you. a few ideas may be:
If you would like further support and advice, call our helpline on 0808 800 2222 or email us at email@example.com. You can talk to us online via our live chat service, which is open, Monday to Friday between 10.30am and 9pm. You may also find it helps to find out how other parents have coped with this on our online forums.