How to Care for Yourself With Young Kids
Having your first (or second, or fourth) child is an amazing experience in any parent’s life, but I think we can all agree that babies demand a LOT of our attention. Our first boy needed to be held almost constantly when he was born, and that need for attention hasn’t abated much in the last 10 years. (And for all of those who would say it’s our parenting style: sorry, I’ve had three babies, and some just come out that way.)
Because of that my husband and I allowed ourselves to be almost completely consumed by his care, and between work and household tasks there wasn’t much time left for us to be our own humans anymore. Once I was able to come up for air – around the one year mark – I realized how much I’d let my own self care lapse. Once I started meeting my own needs again, I realized how much better I felt overall, and equally importantly…how taking care of myself allowed me to take better care of my family.
That’s right – your self care is good for your kids! When you’re operating from a full cup, you’re able to give more to your other relationships. When we allow ourselves to slip to the bottom of our to-do lists, our health suffers, our mental state suffers, and eventually our relationships suffer as well. This is why making time for yourself is Step Number 1 for my health coaching clients – if you aren’t prioritizing yourself, all efforts to change your diet and exercise or move the needle on your health will fail.
Notice I said…making time? No one is going to give you time. Especially if you and your spouse are both drowning under work and family pressures, no one is going to say, “hey, why don’t you take a couple of hours on Saturday to attend that yoga class?” (That said, maybe you could be the one to suggest it and your partner will repay you in kind the following weekend!) Have an honest conversation with your partner about what you need, and figure out ways both of you can get what you need, starting with the area below you feel is most lacking right now. As it becomes second nature, and you start to see the benefits, you’ll both start to look for ways to fill each other’s cups, making for a happy family!
In my case, I realized how much I had missed moving my body during my first year postpartum (not to mention the 9 months of pregnancy before that), so I signed myself up for a 60-day Bikram Yoga challenge. Every day for at least a month, I got myself out of the house for a yoga class. Oh, you thought I was going to say I finished that challenge like a champ? I think life got in the way somewhere in the middle. BUT…I realized how amazing it made me feel. Just that one little thing. By the time my second child came along, I was much more proactive and quicker to get back to activities that made me feel normal again, as I realized it was critical to manage the stress of two kids and a career. Now with three children, I consider my own self care ESSENTIAL to the care of my family. If I’m drained, I can’t effectively or kindly care for anyone else. Below are my top 3 areas of focus for making sure your cup is full, so you’re able to give back to your family.
My first child did not sleep through the night for over 2 years. (Did I mention he needed a lot of attention?) Co-sleeping saved my sanity for a while since I was working full-time and needed to be able to sleep while he ate, but eventually we reached a point where it did not work. Point is, I spent a lot of years sleep deprived. Even when my kids did start sleeping through the night, I would sabotage my own sleep by using the morning and evening hours for “me time.” I stayed up too late watching Netflix or going down internet rabbit holes. I signed up for the 5:30am workout class. It sounded like self-care, but it actually wasn’t.
Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep per night to be functioning humans. If you’re waking up tired in the mornings, or nodding off after lunch, or are falling asleep while putting the kids to bed in the evenings, you probably aren’t getting enough sleep. What can you do about it?
Go to bed early. If you need to, let your partner handle the bedtime routine so you can get a good chunk of sleep in before the first night waking.
Sleep as late as possible. This is tough if you work, but try to condense your morning routine so you’re not giving up precious hours of sleep. This is not the phase in your life for sunrise yoga classes. Honestly it’s better to skip the gym altogether if going means you have to give up on sleep. Are you trying to squeeze in housework before you leave the house? See if your partner can help a little more, at least for a while. My husband became the permanent lunch maker when our kids were little so we could share the morning prep work more evenly (now the kids do most of it themselves!). Try to sleep in as much as you can on the weekends, or at least rest in bed. This will help you make up for some of the sleep lost on the weekends.
Nap! Napping is maybe one of my favorite ways to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon. This is especially a good idea if your kids still nap, and you could even nap with them if it’s not too disruptive. If you’re home during the week, you could even sneak in a quick nap on weekdays to make up for sleep lost at night. This is especially important if you’re still being woken by little ones in the night.
Often we don’t realize how much stress we are under until our health is significantly impacted. We are constantly running around, meeting everyone’s needs, never stopping to think or realize how it all feels. Often one parent carries most of the “mental load,” the endless to-do lists and worries and plans for the future and a task list that runs like a soundtrack in our heads day and night. For me, it took getting diagnosed with a thyroid condition a year ago to realize how much this type of stress was impacting me on a daily basis. Here are my top tips for reducing your mental load:
Meditate. My husband started using Headspace back in 2017 and swears it has made him a better parent. I highly recommend starting with a guided meditation app like Headspace or Calm, but you can also just sit and use a timer on your phone. Start with 5 minutes and focus on your breath. You’re not trying to quiet your mind, you’re just trying to notice what is going on. Emily Fletcher of Ziva Meditation says, “Thoughts are stress leaving the body.” Try to work small, mindful moments into your day to feel less overwhelmed. You can do this while you’re nursing, playing with the kids, or washing the dishes. Jon Kabat-Zinn says that when his kids were really little, he would meditate with them in his lap. If they’re older, have them do a short meditation with you.
Move your body. Walking is a great way to destress, and you can do it with the whole family. (And your dogs will love you for it).
Let it go. Try to reduce your commitments, at least for a little while. This is not the time in your life to volunteer or commit to extra activities, especially if they drain you. Focus on taking care of yourself first, then your family unit.
When our oldest was born, we scrutinized every parenting decision and were so wrapped up in everything he did. We felt guilty for any time we spent away from him. Meanwhile I had no time for myself, and often felt frustrated. Don’t be a martyr! Ask your partner to support some time for activities that fill your cup. I have realized more and more with each kid how important this is, so by the time the youngest came along it didn’t take me long to start making time for myself, and I had the tools in place to make this happen.
Get out of the house. This can be for an exercise class you love (I’ve gotten back into ballet as an adult!), a walk around the neighborhood, a hike, or just a quick trip to the coffee shop for a treat and some reading. You’ll feel so refreshed you’ll be glowing when you walk back into the house, ready to shower love and good deeds on everyone you’ve missed.
Take a few minutes. This can be a quick break for coffee or tea with a favorite book, a bath (or just a shower), or just a few minutes to sit and breathe. Build several of these breaks into your day, and you won’t feel like you’re always at someone’s beck and call (even if you are).
Feed yourself well. Our nutrition affects every aspect of how we feel – how well we sleep, how well-rested we feel afterward, how much energy we have, how our brain functions. Don’t skimp on this or tell yourself you don’t have time to eat well. Keep some healthy snacks around that are easy to grab and go.
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What questions do you have about self-care with young kids? Drop me a note in the comments!
Hi, I'm Meagan.
I'm a full spectrum doula and childbirth educator helping you thrive through birth, baby, and beyond. Learn more about me here.
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CERTIFIED DOULA (DTI), HBCE
Meagan is a full spectrum doula and certified HypnoBirthing® educator helping families follow their intuition to discover balance in family life. With her focus on ancestral practices, relaxation, and self care, she guides her clients to a calm, confident, and connected birth and postpartum experience.