A: Wait, why are you apologizing? Did you know that a part of self-care is not apologizing for asking any question you may have? Begin with that!
Self-care has been talked to death in every facet of the parenting and wellness worlds, but that doesn’t make it unnecessary. And I laughed when you said, “It feels almost as if you’re trapped.” You don’t feel trapped, you are trapped. Most of us reading this right now are trapped in our homes, with our children, full stop.
When I reflected on your question, I thought of my friend Mara Glatzel. She’s a life coach who works on self-care with others, but she’s so much more than that. She asks people to step beyond the baths and massages (although I love both) and strip self-care down to the most elemental things needed.
“The trick and truth of it is, self-care is MOST important when it feels the least possible — when we are stressed, living through a pandemic, or trying to balance our lives, work and children within the bubble of our homes,” she says. “I recommend throwing out everything you think self-care is supposed to look like, and focus directly on what you need on a day-to-day basis.”
A day-to-day basis.
So, my best advice after having worked with hundreds of parents with young children? Plan your energy.
Sit down with yourself, and discover when you have the most energy in the day and when you feel the most depleted. Then, create your routine in reverse. For instance, if by 4 p.m. you have nothing left, make technology and easy meals the goal. Don’t ask yourself to stand in front of the stove for hours, and don’t create magical recipes. Have a tight-ish bedtime routine, and write it down for both you and the kids to follow. Next, ask yourself when your energy is at its highest and you’re the most patient. Morning? Perfect. Get outside, do a craft, go to parks, join a pandemic pod, walk to a coffee shop. The idea is to make everyone tired and to get vitamin D. Stock your shelves with cheap crafts and toys for rainy or frigid days, and again, have lunch be simple: quesadillas and cherry tomatoes, or leftover rotisserie chicken and yogurt. Then there’s nap/rest/reading time, then back outside.
If you’re working, you want to front-end the outside activity for as long as possible, so the kids are tired and you can turn on “Sesame Street.” You may also want to find a teen who is reliably taking precautions during the pandemic to come over three afternoons a week to play with your children outside.
Your day-to-day needs will change, so you may stick to the basics: good food, good sleep, lots of water, moving the body. All four of these may not occur on any given day, but the aspiration is there.
If you have a partner, use the weekend to get out of the house by yourself. If possible, drive to a place to hike or, as Glatzel says, watch “half an episode of ‘Bridgerton’ on your phone in the car with a hot cup of coffee.”
Self-care is also forgiving yourself when you lose it (and you will lose it). You can practice apologizing to your children, then practice letting it go. That’s self-care.
And when you begin to feel as if you are really losing it, please remember that humans need each other. We are built to connect, and this pandemic is hurting parents in both obvious ways (death, illness, the economy) and sneaky ways (mental health). Trust that if you feel at loose ends, so, too, do your neighbors. Make your neighbors cookies, have the kids make them pictures and try to spread a little joy. When you help others, you feel good, so make a list of small, good things.
I wish I could promise you that it will all get easier, but I cannot. Spring is coming, and the days are getting longer. Keep on keepin’ on, and try to do no harm. That’s good enough.
And if that isn’t enough, get support. Women such as Glatzel are out there, as are parent coaches, therapists, parent groups, you name it. There is loving support available, and you deserve to have it!