By Jamison Monroe, Founder and CEO of Newport Academy
Self-care for parents is an underrated factor when it comes to raising a teen. Parents are awesome people and have a significant impact on their children. In my line of work, I talk every day with parents who would do anything for their kids. Family means everything to them. They would give their children the clothes off their backs, take a bullet for them—every cliché you can think of.
But there’s one thing that these parents almost never do—one essential thing that they put at the bottom of their list again and again: self-care.
The excuse parents usually give—not having enough time—is just one reason why they fail to practice self-care on a regular basis. There’s also the guilt factor, which sets self-care for parents at the bottom of their list often times.
“By becoming a parent, you take on this new role in the world,” says Mariam Gates, a teacher who holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is creator of Kid Power Yoga. “Someone has become more important than anything else, including you. We are wired to make this new person our number-one priority, and it’s hard to see how taking care of yourself increases your ability to care for them.” But it does, without a doubt.
Burnout Can Lead to Depression
When we’re depleted, our ability to care for others is compromised. In one study, a control group of parents of healthy children were compared to a group of parents of chronically ill children. 36% of parents of sick kids showed clinical burnout symptoms. But 20% of the control group showed clinical levels of burnout as well. One out of every five parents is suffering from burnout. Consequently, chronic burnout can tax mental health, leading to deeper concerns, like depression.
Modeling Self-Care for Kids
Mariam has two kids with her husband, Rolf, a yoga teacher and a former social worker trained in the field of addictions. When he doesn’t prioritize self-care, Rolf says, “I experience a lessening in my ability to show up for everything, across the board. I have less patience, I have less imagination, and it feels like I have less time.” When he takes space for self-care, his time with their children, ages 10 and 13, flows naturally and without effort, he says.
“It is essential to feel like you have more resources inside than a cup of coffee to draw on,” says Mariam. It’s important to model self-care for your kids, especially as they get older: “If they don’t see that I can calm myself and take care of myself, I am not sure what that will mean for their own capacities down the line.”
5 Tips of Self-Care for Parents
Here are the five most important aspects of self-care for parents, according to Rolf and Mariam.
- Sleep. No matter what you hear about “short sleepers,” experts still say most of us need eight hours a night.
- Nutrition. Eating balanced meals is not only important for you, it’s important for your kids to see you doing it, says Rachel Fortune, MD, FAAP, National Medical Director for Newport Academy and a pediatrician who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. “Teach them that food is our friend, and that eating well gives us mental clarity and physical strength,” Fortune says.
- Exercise. Research documents a myriad of positive effects on mental health associated with physical activity. Scientists say that the endorphins released by exercise improve immunity, as well as mood.
- Meditation. Meditation is a powerful tool for parenting. A study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that children of mindfully self-compassionate parents tend to have lower rates of teen anxiety and teen depression.
- Friendship/community. The fact is that all parents benefit from connecting with peers. Create your own network of support, and schedule regular visits.
“The quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our relationships. Parenting is a series of relationships and connections,” says Rolf. “These activities allow me to show up for that from a place of wellness, optimism, and joy.”
Journal of Child and Family Studies, April 2015, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 1117–1128
Primary Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2004; 6(3): 104–111.
Acta Paediatrica 99(3):427-32 · November 2009