Putting yourself first doesn’t always come naturally, especially to parents. With the chaos of an ongoing pandemic, homeschooling, working from home, and life in general, it would be no surprise if you’ve slipped further away from the top of your list. As parents, we have become so adept at juggling all the things while keeping a smile on our faces, even while knowing that what usually gives first is our sanity. As the old saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. Besides, our well-being directly impacts our children’s, so recognising when things are not sustainable, reaching out for help early on, and resetting are essential. So, here are a few ways you can put yourself first.
Parents Put Yourselves First
by Laura Powell-Corbett
Self-care often gets a bad rep as an indulgent, behaviour-excusing activity. But it is so much more than face masks and bath bombs.
The beauty of self-care is that it is personal to you. Having a hot cup of tea in the kitchen away from the screaming children might be enough to reset some parents. Others may need more. And that’s okay—everyone is different, and it stands to reason that their self-care needs would reflect that.
You Need Sleep
It’s no secret that sleep is seen as a luxury for parents the world over, and it’s so unfortunate. Sleep is critical to people’s health and overall well-being. Yet, it is overlooked as something that is crucial for parents to work on.
Whether it is your sleep or our children’s sleep, you cannot underestimate the impact of getting enough of it. Anneka, a Qatar-based sleep consultant, says that in many cases, parents feel guilty about wanting a good night’s sleep.
So, it comes as no surprise when she shares that many secretly fantasise about life pre-children and those golden hours they used to get. The guilt is then exacerbated when friends, family, and even paediatricians assure parents that not only is their sleep deprivation normal, but that they should also avoid having “unrealistic” expectations around sleep.
Parents are often reluctant to reach out for help, yet they would take their child to a doctor if they were ill. The stigma around sleep consultants lives on, but it shouldn’t. Laura, a mum to three boys, recently worked with Anneka when her youngest son refused to sleep through the night, reluctant to “sleep train”. With Anneka, she learnt that sleep training is about so much more than sleep itself. It’s about having the energy to show up for your equally happy and well-rested children every single day. It’s also about being able to focus on your work, head out for a long-overdue date night with your spouse, or have your evenings free for quality time with them at home or by yourself. It can even be about enjoying your role as a mum or dad and looking forward to being together as a family, minus the bedtime battles.
It’s okay to accept external help to improve your quality of life. By hiring a sleep consultant, Laura has found that her life has improved by giving her more time back—a result she did not expect.
Fuel for Success
Many parents find themselves worrying about what their children are eating. Creating the right balance of nutrients and food that they will actually eat is a juggling act in itself. Emma, a mum to two, has found herself continually walking this tightrope since her daughter was born. Unlike her older son, who would eat anything, her daughter was the fussiest of eaters and had a limited beige diet. Emma found that she was spending all her energy trying to persuade her daughter to eat while she ran on empty. She was often so busy battling that she would forget to eat breakfast and lunch.
After weeks of lethargy and irritability, she looked back and realised that she was not fuelling herself or thinking about the nutrients she put in her own body, the way she did with her children. Overhauling her diet meant that she made the time each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Her energy improved along with her relationship with food. The battle with her daughter may rage on, but now, she’s modelling her own healthier behaviours. Plus, she’s had smaller victories with getting her daughter to try new foods—an unexpected bonus from taking time out to look after herself.
Strong Body, Strong Mind
A positive mindset can be difficult to obtain. The stresses and impact of everyday life can get in the way, leaving you feeling less optimistic about the time you have to care for yourself. Paul, a dad to three young children, finds that taking some time out of his day to exercise helps clear his mind and prepares him for the fracas of family life. His activities of choice include short jogs, swims, and circuit classes.
Jaclyn, a personal trainer, agrees with Paul’s approach. She recommends adopting an active lifestyle to benefit your mind and body. Jaclyn finds that parents are often reluctant to step away from family life due to guilt. She also finds that they worry that it is might be selfish for them to take an hour for themselves. Despite this, her clients report that taking the time to get active makes them more engaged with their families.
Humans are, by nature, social creatures. We crave interaction with others, no matter how introverted we are. With Qatar slowly opening up again, the latest coffee shops, ice cream bars, and restaurants are all available to help honour that need.
Elisa is a mum to two young children who works part-time. She finds that the social fulfilment from leaving her house and meeting with others helps her stay positive. If you work from home or are otherwise restricted in your movements, these meetings can be a lifeline. And this is true even if you feel guilty about them because you are worried that your time with your kids is already limited. But when you consider your social needs, you end up in a better frame of mind and with a more fulfilling relationship with your children as a result.
Mental Health Matters
For many, anxiety levels shot up when the pandemic hit, and for some, even more so. Sharon, a mum of two, was pregnant during the pandemic and gave birth when cases were at their peak. Worries about the continually evolving situation and the fate of the plans she originally made had overwhelmed her. That, plus the stress of not being able to be with the family members who supported her when her first child was born led her to dark days and even darker nights. The feeling that she was the worst person on the planet was hard to shake. Fortunately, Sharon reached out for help. After a long mental and physical struggle, she safely delivered her baby girl last September. Her journey is far from over, but she shares her story to help others know they are not alone and that help is out there. And it is.
The Bottom Line
You are a priority, and you deserve to live a life that affirms that. And you can do that by carving out time for bubble baths or getting practical help with sleep, cleaning, or exercise—whatever works for you. There is no shame in saying yes to helping yourself or getting others to help you. And when you’re in top condition, you can pass that message on to other parents as well so they can put themselves first. After all, you really can’t pour from an empty cup.