By Meri Levy, MFT
Taking Care of Yourself as a New Parent
As parents, our job is never-ending. For the next 18-21 years, you are either “on duty” or “on call” 24/7. Strangely, while this never-ending job doesn’t necessarily get easier with time, it often seems less like “work” as our children (and we) mature, and more like “life.”
But it is easy, as we grow into our role as caretakers of our children, to forget another important person who relies upon our care – ourself. We all make this mistake sometimes. If you don’t make sure that your own nutritional, health, emotional, and spiritual needs are met, who do you think will? It has been my experience that the answer is “no one.” As much as our partners may want to attend to our needs, they cannot do it for us. No one but you really knows what it is you need, and many of the things that fulfill us as human beings cannot be done for us.
No one but you can make sure that you eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, indulge in treasured hobbies or activities, get needed downtime, or connect with beloved friends and family.
How important is it to make sure that your own needs are met? Only you can say. One mom might be able to tandem-nurse twins and a toddler while home-schooling her older two children and never see a movie or have dinner out for five years. And be perfectly content. Another might feel burdened and overwhelmed if she doesn’t have lunch with a friend or enjoy a leisurely uninterrupted bath weekly. Or maybe you need an hour every day to drink a cup of tea and read the paper or a good book. You are the only person who can say when your engine’s running low on gas, and what it takes to fill it up.
And it doesn’t help to feel guilty about what you need to do to take care of yourself. If your child needed a nap long after his peers had given it up, would you tell him to “tough it out” and be grumpy for half the day? No, you would do whatever you could to arrange things so that he could get his nap. You deserve the same recognition for your unique temperament and needs.
And you don’t do anyone any favors if you let yourself run on empty for too long. No one wins if you allow yourself to run out of gas on the side of the road. And everyone is affected when you are running low, not just you. You don’t make it to the finish line any faster if you never slow down and take it easy.
This is your life. And raising children is a path, not a destination. You cannot travel the path with joy and stamina without giving yourself the same care you give your children. So take some time this week and plan a couple of activities you can do that will help “fill up your tank.”