8 Ways to Prioritize Yourself When You’re a Parent
As 2021 comes to an end, this is your friendly reminder to remember yourself in the new year. Whether you’re expecting or already have children, know that it’s not selfish to prioritize yourself. As a mother, your body will prioritize your baby biologically but it’s crucial to remember your own needs – this goes for your partner, too. Self-care is essential to maintaining your own health and also key to your child’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Our friend Dr. Alice Pickering, licensed clinical psychologist and perinatal mental health professional, believes that prioritizing your mental health should be a non-negotiable, and we couldn’t agree more. She recognizes that becoming a parent is a time of BIG change accompanied by a shift in identity. Life as you know it is no longer really, well, life as you know it…and that can be difficult to manage. So how do you make the best of this new territory? How do you thrive during this period of uncertainty, doubt, confidence, learning, and growth?
Here are 8 ways to start putting yourself first:
1. Acknowledge the importance of sleep
Dr. Pickering explains, “We are often told that sleep is crucial…and that’s because it really is. As annoying as it may be to hear phrases such as “rest as often as you can” or “sleep when baby sleeps,” the takeaway is that rest is restorative. However, when we think of sleep, oftentimes we think of duration. We equate the number of hours slept to mean “better” sleep and feeling well rested. This is often not the case. When I talk about sleep, I like to emphasize quality over quantity. I’m certain there have been moments where you’ve slept longer hours only to feel groggy and more tired than before. So how do you ensure quality sleep? By listening to your body as much as you can and not resisting the urge to fall asleep in order to do things like laundry or wash dishes. Sleep surpasses household chores. I promise you will be more effective in completing household tasks when you are well rested as opposed to pushing through when you are exhausted.”
2. Hydrate & eat nutrient-rich foods
This comes as no surprise, but it’s one of the most challenging self-care tasks parents are faced with. As you transition to parenthood, any time you might have for meal planning, grocery shopping, or time to eat a meal in peace has dwindled. Nourishing your body with healthy foods and fluids is the fuel you need to perform as a parent. No matter what stage, whether you’re pregnant or already have children, giving our bodies sustenance is essential. Dr. Pickering notes its importance in the first 3 months to a year after birth, “Postpartum nutrition needs are often higher than those in pregnancy, especially if you plan to or are breastfeeding.” Ways to make sure you’re eating healthy & hydrating are:
- Buy a large water bottle and fill it up every morning with the goal to finish it by the end of the day.
- Sign up for a grocery or meal delivery service.
- Take advantage of your crockpot and cook meals at the beginning of the week. Crockpot recipes are usually great frozen and can make mealtime much easier.
- Stock up on healthy snacks and save any quick recipes you come across.
3. Take time to reflect
Sometimes we all just need a minute (or five) to breathe. This time to reflect can look different for everyone, but be sure it’s a time specifically for you. If you’re able to make this a quiet time, even better. You may want to use it as a phone or social media detox, a meditative practice, or maybe time for stretching or mindful breathing.
4. Move your body
Find time to engage in activity that gets your heart rate up–even better if it’s something you enjoy doing like dancing, walking, or an on-demand workout class. Depending on where you’re at, pregnancy, postpartum, or other, be sure to consult with your doctor before implementing a new exercise routine. If you’re looking for more tips on getting active after baby, check out our post on How To Ease Into A Fitness Routine After Baby.
5. Socialize with other adults
Just as it’s important for your child to socialize, it’s important for their parents to connect with other adults. It’s okay if this is virtual but if you have the chance to get out to meet a friend, take it! Human connection is part of living a well-balanced life. Celebrating, and even commiserating, with others will remind you that you’re not alone in this parenting thing. Head over to the Nanit community to chat with other parents who are in the same boat, or get tips from those who are maybe a little ahead of the game.
6. Recognize how you’re feeling mentally
With mental health as her focus, Dr. Pickering wants you to know that, “During this time, keep things simple and don’t forget the power of self-care. Now is not the time to make a lengthy to-do list or ponder the future. Take things day by day, moment by moment. Do the little and simple things that fill your cup and remind you that you’re human. Adjusting and re-framing expectations can help in this regard. We often fall captive to various thinking errors that lead us to experience guilt, shame, sadness, anxiety, anger, or frustration when we feel as though we aren’t doing “enough.” Recognize when this might be happening and take note. It may be a good time to talk to someone or find a therapist to talk through how to increase your confidence in your new role as a parent.
7. Keep up with your own doctor’s appointments
It’s as simple as that. Your child has or will have many appointments you’ll need to keep track of. Don’t let your own healthcare get lost in the mix. You can’t take care of your children if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
8. Don’t be afraid to accept or ask for help
“Support is critical throughout this time in a mother’s life. This may look differently for everyone, especially during a pandemic. Gather your supports and let them know how they can help you, practically and emotionally. This may include family members, close friends, church or neighborhood community, co-workers, virtual support groups,
professional/licensed providers, etc. Make your needs known. If someone offers to help you by dropping off a meal at your front door or doing a grocery haul, don’t hesitate to communicate your preferences. If you would like your partner to affirm and validate you, try your best to communicate that to them. If you’d like a friend to reach out to you via text every once in a while, let her know. Grant yourself permission to accept help and support as it becomes or is available and as long as you are comfortable doing so. You are not an inconvenience.”
Expecting in the coming months? Read Dr. Pickering’s The 5 S’s for a Successful Transition to the Fourth Trimester for what you can expect and how to adjust while keeping yourself and your needs in mind, along with your baby’s.
Parenthood is a balancing act. In our Me Time community group, you can connect with other parents on managing mental and physical health leading up to and during parenthood.