Why Parents’ Self-Care Matters

Christina ReynoldsAcceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness and ACT for Beginners Group, Parenting, Self-Compassion

On this day, when we celebrate all the mothers in the world for their hard work, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the importance of self-care.

One of the most used metaphors in my work with clients is the ‘aeroplane metaphor’. When I use this metaphor, I talk about the flight attendant briefing the passengers pre take off.  I make particular reference to the part where the flight attendant explains what to do if the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling. I ask clients what they are supposed to do if they are travelling with a minor? Without fail, all clients know the right answer: place the oxygen mask over your own face before assisting others. They also know why: because if they pass out they will be of no help to their child or other family members.

Whilst this example does not seem like a difficult mental task for clients, they often struggle to apply the principle of ‘I need to look after myself first to be able to look after others’ in their everyday life, particularly when they have children. I get it, children can be very demanding and naturally impatient. It often seems easier to focus on their needs before we focus on our own. It can also feel uncomfortable to leave the house messy and shift from hyper-speed to a normal, manageable pace in our life. Contributing to this chaos is the fact that our mind likes the constant busyness and problem solving. The mind is not a good ally when we want to make changes in the ‘self-care’ department and will quickly re-count all the things we have yet to do.

So  PAUSE with me for a moment and notice your feet on the floor, feel yourself sitting on the chair or sofa, feel your breath. Now take a deep, long breath. What do you notice?

  • Are you tired?
  • Do you have a headache?
  • Are you hungry and realise that you have forgotten to have breakfast or lunch?
  • Are you angry or frustrated?
  • Are you restless?
  • Are you thinking of your never ending “to do list”?

Now come back to the aeroplane metaphor and CONSIDER for a moment, that in your life, in your family, you are not just a passenger. You are not just a flight attendant, you are actually the pilot.

Imagine the pilot on an actual plane putting oxygen masks on everyone else before he/she looked after themselves? Do you think that would be wise? Would you blame the pilots on a plane for looking after themselves first so that they can fly the plane you are in?

As parents, we often forget that without our guidance and direction, the whole family system cannot function properly. We also tend to forget that how we feel and how alert and calm we are can have a tremendous impact on the whole mood of the family. If we are exhausted we might react more quickly and harshly to people around us when things don’t go as planned. We may pass our frustration and impatience on to others in our family, which can lead to family tension. I am not saying that we can avoid arguments or disagreements completely, but if we allow ourselves some time for self care we might be able to avoid them some of the time because we are calmer and less exhausted.

So what does self-care look like?

Self-care is really any behaviour that you do just for yourself to re-energize you. For some, that might be getting a massage, for others it might be going for a walk or having some quiet time to read or meditate. The options are countless and only limited by your imagination.

When starting any self-care behaviour, you might want to try and make it an activity that is shorter but that you can engage in frequently, rather than something big that you only do once a year.

Reminding yourself why self-care is crucial is an important first step. However, as our mind is not always the wisest co-pilot, it may still protest at this new idea. In this instance practicing diffusion techniques by simply saying something like “never mind YOU mind” when it wants to ‘but’ in on your self-care plans might be helpful.

If you want to know more about how to take better care of yourself or how to better manage that pesky mind of yours, call our practice on 07 38229983 for an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists.



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