“Self care” is one of those terms that’s used a lot these days. The whole wellbeing thing is big at the moment, and growing by the day. But a lot of parents don’t really have the spare time for something as decadent as self care; single parents even more so. We’re too busy making sure our kids are fed and washed and clothed and happy – not to mention making sure we’re wearing something vaguely presentable ourselves. But here’s the thing – it’s harder to do any of that stuff when you’re not taking care of yourself.
We’ve all heard that saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup” – and we all know what they tell you in the aeroplane safety announcements: that you should put your own mask on before your child’s. As single parents, many of us are the only person our children can rely on. For me, I have to take care of myself because S has nobody else. There’s nobody else to do the school run if I can’t; there’s nobody else to take proper care of her if I can’t. So I have to make sure I’m up to scratch.
As well as this, there is the fact that when I practice self care I am setting an example to S. I show her that it’s ok to stop and take care of oneself as well as caring for others.
With that said, it’s hard to take time for yourself; when you’re faced with 50 tasks, doing something for you seems incredibly decadent and lazy. But if you don’t, you can’t be a good parent, a good friend, a good human. We all need a rest sometimes.
Here are some simple things you can do to take care of yourself:
- Consistently talk back to that horrible voice in your head – with love and compassion. When the voice tells you you’re being lazy or should be doing something else, respond every single time. Remind that voice that you are worthy of some time alone, of love, of self care. Hating yourself will never solve anything – it’ll just make you feel worse. Tell yourself you’re worth it, even when you don’t feel it. Especially when you don’t feel it.
- Accept help when it’s offered. If someone offers to help you, let them. Even if you feel guilty or like a burden, or that you are somehow failing your child by accepting some help from someone else – but if you’re frazzled and snappy, you’re failing both of you any way. I’ve really struggled with this one; friends often offer to have S over to play and I feel horribly guilty for it – even when I know she’ll be having a fantastic time. But I know it’s good for both of us for S to do things with other people. And I’ve also learned through experience that when someone helps you, they get to feel good about it – don’t you feel good when you help someone?
- Ask for help. Sometimes help is not offered, and we can find ourselves sitting there, resenting the people who don’t offer. But if we don’t ask them to help, how are they to know? I’m really bad for this, but I’m trying to get better. As per my previous point: often when we help someone, it makes us feel good. When you ask someone for help and they’re able to assist, it will make them feel good.
- Get an early night. I know that when you’re on your own, your evenings are precious time for yourself. But getting enough rest is more important than catching up on whatever soap or drama you’ve been watching on TV. Without fail, if I can tear myself away from Netflix (and social media) and just get an early night, I feel a lot better in the morning.
- Have a bath with epsom salts. Epsom salts are really cheap, they’re easy to use and you don’t need to scrub the bath afterwards. They also allow your body to absorb magnesium through your skin, which helps you to relax.
- Stop comparing. Social media is great for keeping in touch with people, but it can be quite a negative place too. It’s really easy to see the things other people have, the way their lives look, and feel like we’re inferior. Social media is really, really bad for that. You don’t need to avoid social media completely; I find that if I mute or unfollow certain people, I can avoid feeling like I’m the worst person in the world! For a little while, any way.
- Take care of your health. It’s easy to dismiss your own health in favour of making sure your child is ok. That’s all well and good, but who will take care of your child long term, if you are ill? I know people think it’s bonkers that I spend a relatively large amount of money on supplements and suchlike, but they keep me fit and healthy and able to care for S. After all, I’m the only parent she has; there’s no backup for if I get sick!
- Demand a cuddle. Being a single mother means I don’t have to share S’s love and cuddles with anyone else; they’re all for me. The major perk to being a single mum is that I can demand a cuddle whenever I want – and she’ll usually oblige. Cuddles release oxytocin which helps us to feel good. There are all sorts of studies linking cuddles to better health and what have you – but really, it just feels good to cuddle your child. Do it more often.
- Express gratitude. Yeah, it sounds corny but it does work. Counting your blessings can help to build resilience, and even train the mind to search out the positives in a situation. I do this with S before bed each evening: we think of 3 great things about our day. Then when I go to bed, I do the same thing myself. Some people do it as they clean their teeth before bed. Give it a try for a week and see how you feel.
- Do things you enjoy. Listen to music; revive an old hobby; sit quietly and read a brilliant book. Yes, there are probably a million other things you could or should be doing – but they’ll all still be there when you’re done with taking care of yourself.
All of these are simple things that require no (or very little) money. They don’t require a babysitter or several hours of your child entertaining themselves. I dare you to try one. Or more than one.