2020 has been a year of upheaval for all of us, but with added stresses including uncertain finances, schools closing, and restless kids stuck at home, being a parent during this time can be particularly challenging.
Perhaps you keep hearing about people binging on Netflix, and think: “How do these people have so much free time?? I’m busier than ever!” And it’s true. While many people find social distancing extraordinarily difficult because of the lack of in-person contact, parents are having the opposite issue. They likely have too much in-person contact throughout the day, with no break from anyone else in the family. School, activities, work, or going to friends’ houses are all off the table. That means there’s no natural barrier, time to recharge, or even answer text messages, unless you intentionally take it. Dismissing your alone time can lead to additional stress and, in extreme cases, parental burnout.
Thankfully, taking active steps to practice self-care isn’t as difficult as you may think. As a time management coach, I’ve been working with my clients on how to manage change and stay sane. Here are my top five tips on how to give yourself time and space to recharge as a parent right now.
Think About What You Want
Different individuals have different activities that help them thrive. An important part of practicing self-care is understanding what activities are soothing to you. Start to make a list in Evernote of what you would really like to do and can still do in this current environment. That could include:
- Talk with friends
- Do artistic hobbies
- Start journaling
- Organize your home
- Take a nap
Think through what kinds of activities you really find yourself longing to do. If your brain is too fried to organize your thoughts right now, that’s OK. Think back to the things you used to enjoy doing to recharge before your situation changed. Are there things you may have dropped from your schedule? Can you start doing them again?
Define your specific next steps
Once you’ve clarified what you need to feel healthier and happier in general, you can start to define specific next steps by digging down within each item in your note.
For example, under “exercise,” you could list ideas such as:
- Walking around the neighborhood
- Following a 20-minute exercise video on YouTube
- Taking a virtual class
Under “reading,” you could list a few books you’ve been meaning to start. And under “talking with friends,” you might list out a few specific friends and family members to call. The idea is that by having a very clearly defined next step, it makes it easier to take action.
Pick a treat for each day
To give yourself something to look forward to and to stay away from the feeling of resentment that you’re always doing things for everyone else, approach the list you’ve created as a set of “me-time” treats, and pick one each day as a way to unwind and reward yourself. It could look like going on a walk, taking a nap, calling a friend, etc. Define what you want to do and then look for opportunities to do that thing. Make it a goal to do at least one thing every day that you find refreshing.
Communicate your boundaries
If you need support from other people in your home to do these activities, ask for it. Maybe that means having your spouse watch the kids while you go on a walk alone. Or telling your kids that you’re going to be on the phone with your friend in your bedroom and to only interrupt you if it’s an absolute emergency. It’s not wrong or bad to communicate when you need space—in fact, it’s essential. Just because it’s called “self-care” doesn’t mean you should be expected to do everything yourself.
Support others’ need to recharge
While you’re asking for the support you need to refresh and recharge each day, don’t forget to actively give that same support to others. If you know your husband or wife could really use some introverted time, offer to be responsible for the kids for the evening. Or, if one of your kids needs some space to practice their singing, give it to them. The more we honor and respect one another’s needs to refresh and recharge, the less often arguments will erupt simply because people in your household need space.
When movement is restricted, it can be really difficult for parents to create the space they need to practice self-care and recharge. But know that you’re not alone in these challenges, and it is possible—and necessary—to solve some of them with a little thought and intention.