What does ‘self-care’ look like for you? Katherine Granich asks you to look beyond bubble baths and beach sunsets
When you think of “time out” or “self-care”, what comes to mind? Is it taking a walk on the beach at sunset while the waves tickle your feet? Soaking in a bubble bath with a glass of wine and a bunch of candles? Swaying in a hammock while the birds sing to you? This all sounds rather dreamy, but have those things ever actually happened in your life?
With children, our definition of “self-care” often shifts. You may find it hard to get time to go to the toilet by yourself, let alone draw a bath and actually soak in it without someone small knocking on the door to ask if you need a mermaid doll to play with. In my house, some days, “self-care” means I brushed my teeth AND remembered to put on moisturiser before the school run.
You can choose from any number of metaphors for self-care, from “Put on your own oxygen mask first” to “You can’t fill from an empty cup.” Great in theory, but how do you put those things into practice, especially with kids around?
SCHEDULE YOUR ME-TIME
You schedule your work, GP appointments, kids’ sport practices, lunch with relatives, family holidays, but do you schedule your me-time? This requires a mindset shift, because all too often, our me-time moments get hijacked because something else has come up. But if you treat your me-time like an appointment you can’t miss, and you schedule other things around it, you’re reinforcing that it’s important. Seriously, make an appointment with yourself. And if something comes up, you can say, “I have an appointment I can’t move.”
It might feel like your partner has unlimited me-time without needing to go to the length of scheduling it in, but this goes for them, too. Schedule your and your partner’s me-time into the family calendar. This way you can each see that you are, in fact, each getting time out, and prioritise this for each other as well as yourselves.
KNOW THAT YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH
As parents we spend a lot of time berating ourselves for perceived failures. Not good enough, not on time, said the wrong thing, unprepared, forgot, not perfect, not as good as someone else’s, let you down, let myself down, let my child down. Unworthy. This self-talk is pernicious and pervasive, and it hurts us. If someone was speaking to our children like we speak to ourselves, there’s no way we would stand for it.
Let me tell you something: You are good enough. You are doing your best. Your best is fine. It is not always possible – in fact, is it exhausting – to be “switched on” every moment of the day, to do all the things perfectly and beautifully and easily and swiftly. You do not need to volunteer when no one else does. You can (and should) say no. You are allowed to stop something once you’ve started it. If you have taken on too much, you can say that you can’t do this any more, and you can hand that burden back.
A friend messaged me this morning to tell me that she’s resigning from a committee we’re both on. She wrote, “I am learning to say no.” My first thought was, Good for her. I’ll miss her on this committee, but I’m so proud of her for recognising what she needs, and putting herself first.
Having me-time is like hitting the ‘reset’ button. It helps us to be more patient and kind to ourselves and others, encourages us to live more in the moment, helps us sleep better because we’re less stressed, improves our ability to manage our moods, and builds our self-confidence.
MICRO-MOMENTS OF JOY
A psychologist once explained to me the concept of what she called “micro-moments of joy” – those tiny, fleeting moments of pleasure that occur in between all of the stress, pain, drama, and frustration that we might be going through (in my case, during an extended and exhausting hospitalisation of one of my children). Recognise those tiny flashes of good feelings, laughs, peace, enjoyment, and try to hold on to it for just a touch longer. That might be all you’re capable of, in that moment. You might not have the capacity to write them down and reflect on them later, but trying to look for those moments can shed a ray of sunlight on an otherwise bleak day. Sometimes self-care is purely the exercise of closing your eyes and searching for one of those moments you’ve had today, and tacking it to your mental pinboard.
CAPABILITY VS CAPACITY
Capability is, “I am capable of doing the thing.” Capacity is, “I have the time/space/mental health/support/resources to do the thing.” Often we conflate the two, thinking they’re the same thing. But they’re not.
What kind of self-care do you have the capacity to do? You might think to yourself, “I live near the beach, I should be able to go take that sunset walk whenever I want to.” You may have the capability, but you’re not addressing your capacity for that beach walk. Maybe what you have the capacity to do is walk to the letterbox and pick up the post while your child takes a nap. Maybe what you have the capacity to do is put a beach scene as your phone background so every time you open the screen, you feel a moment of peace. And maybe one evening all the stars will align and you will have the capacity to take that beach walk!
I’m not telling you to downgrade your expectations when it comes to self-care. Instead, think about what you have the capacity for, and see if you can act on that. If a spa day is completely out of the question, how about one of those face masks from the supermarket that takes 10 minutes and supposedly leaves you with the skin of a newborn? I know it’s not the same, but it’s something you might have the capacity for right now. Your capacity will adjust over time, as your children get older and their care needs change.
EMBRACE THE UNEXPECTED
Over the holidays, our neighbours went away for a week, and my teenager was excited to make a few bucks looking after their pets. I was excited to have the neighbour’s empty house to escape to. Because the neighbour, bless her heart, told me that if I ever needed some time out, I was welcome to come hang out in their house while they were away. Now, I only actually got over there once, and spent the whole time sitting in their peaceful lounge scrolling through memes on my phone while petting their cat. But it was glorious.
Sometimes, self-care comes in an unexpected form. A cancelled meeting means you have half an hour to read the paper and drink a cuppa. A sick child means you both get a midday nap. A traffic jam means you crank up the tunes and have a personal karaoke session in the car. Being stuck in a waiting room means you can read a chapter of your book.
Self-care is a mindset, and one that’s not easy for parents to get into, because we’re always looking after others. Your definition of self-care is personal to you. Look after yourself in whatever way you have the capacity for, and be proud of yourself for taking care of you, too.