Recently, I started a mini series that explores practicing self-care as a parent. Because finding the time and energy to care for ourselves while caring for our kids isn’t easy. We also might feel a palpable guilt for doing so. For instance, maybe you assume that you’re a terrible parent because you yearn to get away and be alone. Each of us has specific needs, and each of us deserves to fulfill them.
Today, I’m happy to share the third interview in the series. (Check out the other interviews here and here.) This one features Catherine O’Brien, who has a 7-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. She’s also a therapist who specializes in working with and supporting overwhelmed parents.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Below, Catherine shares the power of self-care in her life along with the lessons she’s learned—and is still learning—about self-care.
Q: What does self-care consist of for you? In other words, I’m wondering how you approach self-care and what that might entail.
A: Self-care for me has often been a struggle. It used to always be the thing that got bumped if something else came up. Since having kids I have found that not having a practice of self-care does not do good things for my family. I know the things that make me feel good, like exercising, eating healthy, and alone time (for my introvertedness).
I have also learned that exercise does not have to be an hour of intense cardio, but could be putting on music that makes me happy and dancing in the living room with my kids or going on a nice peaceful walk in the morning before I start my day. I have also learned to listen to my body to hear what it needs.
Q: How do you navigate the challenge of caring for your kids (and others) while caring for yourself?
A: I find this to be a constant challenge because it is ever-changing. The needs of my kids seem to be a fluid motion, because it is a constant need and is never the same as the day before, even if the shifts are subtle. You can’t get too comfortable or too confident in your parenting methods, because as soon as you figure one thing out, they need you in a new and different way.
One of the most important pieces is that my husband and I continuously check in with each other about what we are needing. I know it is important that he gets time for himself, and he recognizes that I need time for myself. I’m fortunate that he will point it out to me and encourage me to have time for myself when things have been busy or particularly stressful because sometimes it can be easy to forget.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about self-care and motherhood?
A: As hard as it can be to give yourself permission to take time away from your children, it is so important because that ultimately will enable you to be more present with and for them. When we take care of ourselves, we tend to be more patient and more understanding.
It’s like what the flight attendants tell you about putting your own oxygen mask on first before helping others–it’s a lot easier to give someone else what they need when your needs have already been met.
It is also important for our kids to have someone model good self-care for them, so that when they get older, they know they can grant themselves the permission to recharge their own batteries and also know what positive self-care looks like.