Self-Care For Parents: Are Your Mind, Body And Spirit In Sync?
Self-care is not the easiest thing in the world. Especially when you have another person to take care of. So, are you taking enough time to be with yourself and making sure you are okay?
By Arundhati Swamy
Parents need to take good care of themselves in order to take good care of their family.
To your BIG DAY. When you took your marriage vows. When you decided to give your partner your best.
To the moment of truth, when you were told that you would soon become parents. Initial excitement fades into dreams, hopes and plans. Focus shifts to preparations and health check-ups for mom, advice and grandma tales abound, all for the wellness of mom-to-be and baby. Nothing else can be more important than preparing to receive your child into the world. You vow to do your best.
To those wondrous magical moments when you first held your fragile baby in your arms, overwhelmed with emotion and pride. Notice how seamlessly and effortlessly you transited into the parenting mode, how you did things instinctively, lovingly and tirelessly, rarely stopping or caring to listen to the signals emanating from your own life rhythm.
Time for an audit. How are you doing? Are you living, coping or surviving the parent role? What is the reading on your physical and emotional health gauge? After all, parenting is a demanding 24/7 job that draws extensively upon your physical and emotional energies. In doing so, are you giving up too much of yourself? This need to give of yourself wholeheartedly to your spouse, children and extended family members happens because you have been programmed to be selfless and practice sacrifice as a virtue. The self shifts to the bottom of the priority list. Responsibility and commitment to the family take precedence as self-neglect sets in. The silent downward spiral begins. Unconsciously, you give of yourself indiscriminately, mostly out of a sense of duty and responsibility, rather than from compassion and empathy. Here lies the danger.
As Swamy Dayananda Saraswati, a prominent Vedanta teacher succinctly says, “The concept of duty imposes a pressure on you unless you love to do what needs to be done. To get rid of the pressure, it is better to learn to like your work.” So, look for ways to improve your situation, and learn to get back into the parenting glow.
Instead, are you vitiating the cycle by loading it with other problems — health problems, financial distress, social pressures and also, the challenges brought about by life style changes? When stress creeps in, are you treating it as an irritant best ignored?
Take an honest look at yourself — at your emotional, intellectual, physical, spiritual well-being. Solutions for every issue lie with the correct channelling of the mind.
Identify the areas where you feel depleted. The following queries will help your analysis:
Are your family relationships fulfilling or, do they stress you out? Are you avoiding issues, accumulating anger, resentment and frustration? Is the family atmosphere pleasant more often than not? Or is it tense and unpredictable most of the time?
How are you doing at work? Is there a work-life balance or is the scale tilting more towards one side? Is there a clash between family/personal life values and work values? Are work pressures causing guilt and consequently causing you to overcompensate in family life, which could then upset the balance?
Do you meet up with friends at least once a month? Do you take time off for yourself, pursue a passion or a hobby, do something for yourself, even if it is for one of the simple pleasures of life?
Have you ever thought of taking time and attention off yourself, looked around, reached out to others who might need a helping hand? (The experience helps put your own stresses in perspective and some new learning can happen too).
Do you believe in yourself, derive strength from a philosophy or have faith in a divine power? Do you have a life-line to hold on to when all else seems to fail?
Diffuse, de-fuse, refuse explosive build-ups
- Our resource reservoirs store all the life experiences that taught us to face situations, overcome our fears and, feel happy and courageous. These past lessons and experiences can be re-applied to the present and future. Anytime you feel challenged, try to recall how you handled a similar situation, and voila! You have most of the answers, all within you!
- However, there are times when those blocks seem huge and immovable. Perhaps it is time to allow a third person to help de-fuse those blocks.
- Do not allow yourself to be trampled upon by others’ needs. In terms of giving, in terms of time, you have a threshold. Draw that line and operate within it. Do not cross it or allow others to cross it. Reason with the spouse that you cannot handle some of the responsibilities under the current circumstances.
- When you feel burdened, remember to turn to the family for love and affection. Lean on friends for unconditional acceptance. Work provides the recognition and appreciation so essential for encouragement. Community life offers fulfillment and spiritual beliefs provide faith, in oneself and others.
Venus versus Mars
Women tend to be the biggest defaulters in this self-investment process. Marriage grabs all their attention. The husband and children become an all-consuming passion and the sole purpose of their existence, the self-neglect is seen as supreme sacrifice. They find little time for their friends, hobbies, health and needs. The dependency on the family rises steadily; unmet high expectations translate into frustration; dissent and resentment take away chunks of emotional health; coping skills are put to the test, and stress takes over. The cycle is complete. Can a woman in this state give her best to the family?
For men, the role of being the family provider, work demands and career goals can keep them in overdrive mode, leaving little time for rejuvenating themselves. Unlike women, men never give up their buddies and hobbies. They always make time for them and rarely allow routine family life or work responsibilities to steal their personal space.
Psychologists widely agree that men cannot handle intense emotional and family pressures as well as women and that they make excuses to get away. They have been taught to suppress ‘weak’ emotions like fear and sorrow and encouraged to be more aggressive (go-getters), like the early caveman hunter, in their outlook. Today, men understand the need to change and take on a greater proactive parenting role, if not for their spouse, at least for their children. They are slowly getting ‘rewired’.
The last word
So, parents, invest wisely in your physical, emotional and spiritual health. Care for yourself as much as you care for the family. The parenting instinct will push your needs to the back burner, but do not let them stay there any longer than they need to. Children can feel very distressed when they see their parents struggling with health issues and emotional stress. Their world becomes insecure, they make more demands on you and you do not have the strength to meet them. The trap is set. Therefore, do what it takes for you to heal, strengthen and stay healthy. Your children will also learn that personal well-being is an important value and principle in life.
About the author:
Written by Arundhati Swamy on 1 February 2019.
Arundhati Swamy is a family counsellor and Head of the Parent Engagement Program at ParentCircle.
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