Health & Safety

Self-care for parents

By Amanda Taylor

Let’s face it: parenting is not for the faint of heart.

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High School Parent | College Parent

It’s hard work peppered with successes and failures. It’s having your heart walking around outside of you. It’s a never-ending practice of loving and letting go.

I remember when my second child was about to start kindergarten, I thought, “This is going to be amazing. A whole four hours of ME time!” But as I watched her crying, looking back at me as she was led away by her teacher, my heart broke into a million pieces. I wanted to whisk her away and save her from her sadness (or maybe save myself from my own sadness).

Next week I get to practice letting go once again as my college-aged son leaves the country for eight months. I’m not sure it ever gets easier even though I’ve done it many times. I do know, however, that while our kids are embarking on their lives — whether at six years old or at 21 — we must take care of ourselves if we want to be able to care for them; as they say before the plane takes off, “Secure your own oxygen mask before helping others.”

Often, it doesn’t seem like there is enough time for self-care. We have forgotten how important it is or we end up putting our own needs on the back burner until there’s a fire — a health concern, an addiction, an unhealthy relationship, a personal crisis or just an overall sense of feeling unwell emotionally, physically, or spiritually. It’s so easy to distract ourselves and numb out — a couple of beers or glasses of wine, a few hours of TV, or busying ourselves with work until we collapse just to wake up and do it all over again.

What does self-care really look like for moms and dads now? I polled a few friends who have students in high school or college. The answers were thoughtful, humorous, and relatable.

“I take long hikes or mountain bike with friends.” “Have a good strong marriage and a sense of humor.”

“My favorite cup of coffee.”  “Taking thirty minutes in the morning to stretch and meditate.”  “I go to concerts with friends.”  “I have regular date nights with my partner.”

“Therapy!”  “I call a friend and go cry.”  “Learning to sit with difficult emotions — meditate, pray, let it all come out.”  “Having great girlfriends is KEY!”

“Letting our kiddos know how difficult this transition is for us.”  “I dance. It’s art and exercise combined, and connection with other people which is important for my soul.”

Conceptualizing self-care

The point of self-care is to nurture our whole selves toward greater well-being and health. This will look different for each of us according to our backgrounds, current situations, and interests. There are easy ways to fit self-care into our lives! Here are some examples.

Physical self-care

  • Exercise and fresh air
  • Regular check-ups with your health care provider
  • A diet full of fruits and veggies
  • A healthy amount of sleep
  • Bubble baths or hot showers
  • Massage or body work
  • Make love or snuggle with someone you care about
  • Turn off the screens

Emotional/social self-care

  • Allow yourself to cry
  • Laugh often
  • Spend quality time with a supportive friend or family member
  • Join a support group
  • Schedule regular dates with your partner
  • Make love or snuggle with someone you care about (it’s not just physical…)
  • Eat foods that nourish your mind
  • Take time to be alone
  • Prioritize and organize
  • Establish healthy boundaries (say “No” when you need to)
  • Let go of negativity and negative people in your life
  • Pets make great companions

Spiritual self-care

  • Be in nature
  • Keep a journal
  • Have a practice of meditation or prayer
  • Attend a religious service
  • Read inspirational literature
  • Spend time with people who support you in your spiritual life

When we make a habit of taking care of ourselves, we model healthy behavior for our students. This may help them to practice self-care in their own lives. Your routine of self-care will become even more important as you become an empty nester and move into another phase of life. In the meantime, daily self-care will enhance your ability to be present in all your relationships, and to feel your best. You’re worth it!

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our Community Forum and College Parents’ Facebook group.

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