Self-care: selfish or self-preservation?

Give, give, give, to your kids, partner, friends, family, colleagues. But what about you? Is looking after yourself selfish? I used to think self-care meant less time dedicated to my family and my work. That’s only true if you judge time with your family and at work as the number of minutes or hours spent over the quality of the time spent. But we all know there’s time and then there’s time!

Let’s reflect for a moment on how we show up with our family and at work when we neglect ourselves. If you are anything like me, I am cranky, scattered, overwhelmed and a long way from my ideal self. And in the worst case scenario, when I have neglected my wellbeing for a while I am entirely out-of-service because of mystery physical symptoms.

As working parents we can believe that self-care is a nice to have. It can only happen after we’ve spent quality time with the family, work is in control, and the house is sparkling. There is never time left over for you because the things requiring your attention are never-ending. Quite often, we look to others to facilitate our self-care—partners, managers, sometimes even our kids (guilty!). Why can’t they see how much I am doing, how full I am, and how much I need to be stranded on a remote island for weeks? They mustn’t care about me or appreciate me, otherwise they would make me look after myself (or look after me!). The truth is, only you can make this happen. Everyone is busy living their life, and only you know how much you need to look after yourself. If you wait for life to be in control, for your inbox to be zero, or for other perfect conditions to arise, you will be resentful and waiting for a very long time!

To be at your best at work and home, you need to pay yourself first. You need to take action towards those things that restore and fill you up. If it is available to you, try creating 30 minutes of ‘me time’ per day. We trained my kids from ages three and five that from 6AM to 7AM it is our time (note: this took six months of consistent reinforcement!). The kitchen doesn’t open, we don’t field requests or questions, and we are only available if there is a fire or other emergency. For me, I use this time for meditation, yoga, an uninterrupted cup of tea, journaling, podcast or audiobook. It allows me to have a slow and spacious start which allows me to get into the right headspace to tackle the rest of the day. You could also do this at night, or even create a gap during the day. You might feel like 30 minutes is unachievable, but challenge yourself to capture all the ways you spend time. Often, we waste time on distractions. Try swapping out a time waster for you time.

Here are some other ideas on how to practise self-care:

  • Self-care can be a massage or pedicure.
  • Self-care is doing more of what gives you energy and makes you feel joy.
  • Self-care is treating yourself with the same loving kindness as you would your child or best friend, even if you made a mistake, or were not your ideal self in some other way.
  • Self-care is taking yourself off to a café on your own and reading a mag or journaling.
  • Self-care is booking a weekend away with your besties and letting go of any guilt.
  • Self-care is watching a movie during the day because you’re tired, while the kids play on your iPad. One day is not going to kill anyone.
  • Self-care is noticing how out of control your house is and still taking a bath and listening to relaxing music.
  • Self-care is a page-turning novel.
  • Self-care is dancing to your favourite song.
  • Self-care is restorative yoga or meditation.
  • Self-care is learning what you need for your happiness and prioritising those needs as much as humanly possible.
  • Self-care is not overcommitting—it is saying no, lowering your expectations and standards, delegating, slowing down the pace so you can have more space in your life and less running.
  • Self-care is looking after your health and wellbeing.

When you feel guilty or don’t have permission in some way to prioritise yourself, remember this: you are not doing it just for you. You are doing it for your family too. You deserve to be happy, and your full cup will flow over to your family first. They will benefit just as much as you from you feeling great.

Try this: start small. Grab ten minutes here, ten minutes there and create little pockets of joy throughout your day and week.

Written by Belinda Haan. Belinda helps working mums who feel overwhelmed and exhausted balancing work, family and life. She helps them identify quick strategies that make a big difference. She is offering three free 30-minute sessions for working mums who would like support. For more information contact Belinda via her Facebook.

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