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Parents! Don't Forget to Take Care of Yourselves

As a parenting coach, I get the following question a lot: As a working mother of three, "mommy care" is usually the last thing on my to-do list. More often than not, I don't get to it! What are some self-care tips for busy moms?
04/04/2016 07:16pm ET | Updated April 5, 2017
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As a parenting coach, I get the following question a lot:

As a working mother of three, "mommy care" is usually the last thing on my to-do list. More often than not, I don't get to it! What are some self-care tips for busy moms?

Here's what I tell every mom and dad who ask me how to cope with the stress and strain of parenting: "You cannot take care of your children at the expense of yourself."

OK... I'm the first to admit that for the short-term, it feels doable. And in a crisis, you do what you have to do. But for the long term? Denying your physical, mental and emotional needs is simply unsustainable. And contrary to what you may think, ignoring your own needs to cater to your children isn't good for their development, either.

More than just about anything else, children need consistency. You can't say one thing ("No devices at the dinner table") and do another (plop their dinner in front of the TV). But when you're exhausted and spent, you're much more likely to do whatever is easiest, right? To avoid getting in that spot as much as possible (we all get there sometimes!), here are some self-care tips for parents that can help you meet your good-parenting goals.

TIP #1 - Get Out Of Your Head.

Look down. See that? It's your body -- and it needs some serious attention.

• Schedule exercise into your week. If you can, engage a buddy to exercise with -- and to hold you accountable. Many of my coaching clients tell me that exercise is the first thing they cross off the list if something has to go. Don't. Exercise pays dividends in spades. BONUS: Most gyms have built-in childcare services.

• Your kids aren't the only ones who need to eat a healthy diet. Creating a beautiful organic meal for your children... then eating the scraps off their plates and calling it "lunch" is not self-care. It's composting! Model healthy eating as best you can -- it's good for the whole family.

• Sleep. Granted, it's one of the rarest commodities at your disposal, but do what you can to maximize the time you spend horizontal.

TIP #2 - Back to Your Head (and Heart)

There's no such thing as one-size-fits-all self-care. My clients use all sorts of tools, including journaling; meditation; joining a mom's or self-help group; getting counseling when needed; and engaging a parenting coach.

When it comes to self-care for parents, identifying and advocating for your needs is Job #1. That's where open and supportive communication with your co-parent is key. Help one another identify self-care priorities -- and collaborate on how to fit them into busy lives. One working mom I know maintains that having a clear division of labor at home around domestic and childcare duties is essential. When it's her husband's turn to supervise bath time, she knows she can count on 20 glorious minutes to play online scrabble or catch up with a friend on the phone. And vice versa.

By making time to care for yourself, you actually may uncover issues you didn't realize you were avoiding. Take me, for instance. I was very intuitive as a parent, and quite confident I was doing the right thing by my three children. But after a good deal of reflection, I realized I was sublimating the need to end my difficult marriage by throwing myself into being an über-mom. Today, my ex-husband and I are great co-parents -- and our children are capable, independent and resilient young people.

TIP #3 - Stand by your Man (or Woman).

Here's some advice for you married or partnered folks: You were a couple before you had kids. If all goes according to plan, you'll be a couple when they're gone.

In between those goalposts, tending to your partner is just as important as caring for your kids. Some therapists say it's even more important. So make time to be alone sans brood. However you define them, "date nights" are vital.

In fact, your children need to see the primacy of your relationship with your spouse or partner. Kids pay very close attention to what we do -- and they learn a lot by what we model. Show them what a healthy partnership looks like by making time for each other.

If you're still not convinced, try this: Picture your child all grown up with a spouse or partner of his or her own. Imagine what you would want for their relationship. Do you deserve anything less?

TIP #4 - Find Your Tribe.

I know many women who believe they're more effective parents because they have a career. Some dads prefer being the primary caregiver. Tons of single and/or divorced co-parents have extremely fulfilling lives. But no matter your status, every parent needs support.

Building community allows you to connect with an array of human and other resources. Day care, school, kid-sports leagues, and religious and communication organizations offer a natural opportunity to network with other parents.

Remember, carpooling isn't the only sharing opportunity. Get your family active in your local community garden. Create a cooking co-op with like-palated parents and swap up to a week's worth of meals. Participate in a trade-based babysitting or housecleaning collective. And while it's not for everyone, cooperate housing can provide an inordinate amount of support at-the-ready.

TIP #5 - Pat Yourself on the Back.

One of my most important roles as a parenting coach is to give my clients positive feedback. Why? Because like most parents, when one problem is solved or developmental stage mastered, they worry about what's coming next.

Make a pact to acknowledge what you, your co-parent, and your parent-friends are doing right! For every struggle you share, share a positive parenting moment, too.

Just as important, be mindful of your self-talk. What we say to ourselves can be powerful indeed, so make sure your internal chatter is positive and compassionate.

TIP # 6 - Banish Guilt

If I had a magic wand, guilt is the one thing I would get rid of wholesale.

Especially the guilt that says "good" parents protect their kids from disappointment and pain.
You may think you're caring for your children by shielding them from painful experiences, but in fact, you're handicapping them. Infants need to learn how to self-soothe. Little ones need to be able play by and amuse themselves. School-aged kids must struggle over difficult homework assignments. And teens need to know that their actions have consequences. Children can't master these important developmental milestones if mom and/or dad are always front and center.

You may also feel guilty about visiting your own unresolved family issues on your kids. Every parent experiences transference. Often you can deal with it on your own. If not, get the professional support you need.

TIP # 7 - Refuse to Compare.

Smart phone in hand, you are bombarded with images of family perfection. There's that chill yoga mom on Instagram, knitting a baby sweater with hand-pulled yarn from her pack of llamas. Your friend's Facebook post of their "perfect" family vacation. And the parade of stars promoting parenting tips online.

Hold the phone! Posts on social media... ads promoting must-have products essential for happy kids... and the latest celebrity blogs simply reflect a moment in (often air-brushed) time.

Decide what parenting needs to look like to you; establish what is meaningful and relevant to you. Then remind yourself what that looks like the next time you're tempted to compare your parenting to anybody else's.

Just one final word on self-care tips for parents (well, three words, actually):

TIP #8 - Just. Do. It.

You -- and your kids -- will be glad you did.