This post was written by my cousin, Sarah Taylor. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor living in southeast Georgia. She has been a practicing clinician since 2007, and has spent most of her career working with military service members and their families. In her free time, Sarah enjoys spending quality time with her friends and family and using creative expressions to aid her own healing journey – including publishing her first children’s book which will be released Fall 2023! Sarah’s passion is helping others work towards hope, healing, and creating new possibilities for their lives. More information can be found at https://unbound-light.com/
How Lack of Self-Care Affected My Client
“That’s never going to happen. My kids will always come first.” My client gave a derisive snort and crossed her arms.
As a young therapist without much clinical experience or children of my own, I felt helpless. My client was young herself and struggling raising three kids, running the house, and working a full-time job. Her plate was full and free-time was nonexistent.
Her mental health was also struggling. She was over stressed, felt unappreciated, was becoming depressed and developing a very short fuse when it came to her temper.
I had just used the platitude “You have to put your oxygen mask on first…” and she was not having it. I don’t blame her. I roll my own eyes now when someone says that to me.
The truth is, when we reach a certain low point in our ability to do the day-to-day tasks, to bounce back from setbacks, or a low point in our mental health in general, hearing something like that can feel demeaning. How can I focus on myself when there’s so much more important things to do? If we don’t feel safe, secure, or supported in our daily lives how can we even think about the luxury of self-care and pampering?
How Lack of Self-Care Affects Our Kids
It seems for some, my client especially, that taking time for oneself equates neglecting another area of their life. In her case, she felt self-care took away her value as a mother. Self-care = bad mom.
If I could go back now as a more experienced therapist, I would tell her the fact she cares so much shows she is a good mother. I would educate her on how thinking everything is black-and-white, all-or-nothing is a harmful way of thinking. I would tell her self-care does not equate self-ish.
Being present with your child physically doesn’t equate being present with them emotionally. Read that again. Children, especially very young children, crave nurturing, attention, and meaningful play and interaction with their parents. This is such an important phase of their life and development – so important that it can effect their friendships and romantic relationships in the future.
I’ve seen so many parents come to pick up their child from school while on the phone. They never even greet their children or hug them. I’ve had parents playing video games all night while their child watches an iPad until it’s time to go to bed. I’ve seen moms so focused on checking off everything on the to-do list that they never check in to emotionally connect with their child.
What secure, gentle, true nurturing and bonding can be given from someone who is always stressed? Angry? Sad? Distracted? Too busy? Can you picture an interaction between a parent and child when the parent was clearly in one of these moods? What did it look like? Was it a positive interaction?
What Self-Care Looks Like Realistically
Self-care doesn’t have to mean long weekend retreats at expensive spas. It doesn’t have to mean giving up your quality time with your kids or neglecting their needs. In fact, there are many kid-friendly activities that you can do with them. Deep breathing, yoga, coloring, going for a walk, eating healthy meals, singing, dancing, etc. In fact, by doing this you not only are being emotionally present with them, you are teaching your children their own set of healthy coping skills.
I also want to stress that IT IS OK if you take some alone time for yourself. There are 168 hours in a week; it’s ok to give yourself permission to take 30 mins or an hour to do something for yourself once a week. One small positive change can create a domino effect of positive changes. This is how we begin the journey of feeling better and more resilient.
Healthy self-care allows you to show up for your children, family, friends, church, work, etc as the best version of yourself. Yes, we can endure the stress; we can endure the storms and trials, but we’re not obligated to ignore our needs. We can have a healthy balance!
Try This Journal Prompt
Take a few minutes to think on these questions, then spend a few minutes journaling your responses:
- What type of parent do you want to show up as?
- What type of adult do you want your child to grow into?
- They’re constructing their future life experiences and belief systems based on what they see and experience themselves. In what ways are you leading by example?