Answer: Caring for children means that parents' own needs often take the back burner, which is OK to a point. But as with so many things in life, too much of a good thing can become a problem. To maintain the emotional reserve necessary to care for children, parents need to pay attention to their needs. Here are a few ways busy parents can look after themselves while looking after their children.
Make time for "mini-retreats." Soak in a bubble bath surrounded by candles. Go sit in the park or a coffee house and read a good novel. Take a class through community education, especially one that offers child care. Do whatever makes you feel refreshed. Know that little things produce big results, that even 15 or 20 minutes of uninterrupted time for YOU can restore your energy.
Maintain a strong network of emotional support. Research points to support as a primary factor in emotional well-being for parents and--in turn--for their children. Whether your support comes from extended family, neighbors, co-workers or a formal support group, it is important that this network pays attention to your emotional needs and encourages you in your goal of being a good parent.
Share resources with friends and family. For cost-effective ways to care for yourself, a barter system can work wonders. What if you cook a double batch of Monday night dinners and share it with your neighbors in exchange for their taking care of your kids while you break routine and catch a matinee movie? Or how about helping your nephew with his French in exchange for his taking your kids to the park while you take a nap? Be creative in finding ways to make sure that you get the breaks you need.
Set priorities and maintain boundaries. Sort the jobs and activities that are really important to you, or that energize you, from those that you do only because of some old message about duties and obligations. Then, with a good trusted friend, practice how many ways you can say, "No. I'm sorry. I won't be able to do that," without hurting the feelings of the person who's asking for your time. If you keep in mind that caring for your children is always at the top of the list, then it becomes easier to eliminate those activities that drain you of energy and keep you off track.
Remember that caring for yourself enables you to care best for your children. And when you do this, you also are modeling for your children how to live a balanced life. Everybody wins.
Editor's note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. You may fax them to (612) 624-6369 or send them to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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