When my boys were two and four, their energy level was beyond a ten!  I was overworked, exhausted, and stressed out.  To make matters worse, I lacked self-care skills and suffered from an agonizing sense of defeat.

See if you can relate.  During those early years, I lived with the constant buzz of a growing “to-do” list looming in the background.  Things like sibling rivalry, meal planning, doctor visits, nap time, and bedtime battles were just a few of the things I faced each day… and they stressed me out!

My lack of self-care

I worked insane hours to help run my home; my downtime was non-existent; I was always plugged in and “on;” we struggled financially to make ends meet; my kids were misbehaving, and THEY were running our home!  To make matters worse, I would lay in bed at night and worry about ruining my kids and raising them to hate me one day!

As time passed, I became so reactive to the daily pressures; I lost sight of the most critical part of parenting:  relating well to my kids.

As a result, I started to rely on formulas and quick fixes to solve behavioral problems.  I remember barking orders like a military drill sergeant.  During that time, I responded to my boys in ways that were reflexive and automatic rather than warm, nurturing, and intentional.  And each time, my inner-critic would tear me apart.

As I hit my bottom, I learned an alarming truth.  As long as I gave my busy, external world permission to define what was important, my feelings of inadequacy and helplessness only increased.  And then everyone suffered:  my wife, my kids… everyone!

The big question

How do we reduce the stress and anxiety that goes with parenthood?  How do we handle the daily ups and downs without getting caught up and entangled by our emotions and reactions to all that stress?  How do we silence that inner-critic tears us all down?

As a practicing psychotherapist, I understood that I needed to make my health and wellbeing a priority.  However, something was getting in the way:  I was caring for my children at the expense of my own needs.  In my pain and desperation, I had to admit that it was time to make some radical changes!  Here’s what I learned from all of that trial and error.

Since parenting is stressful, self-care matters

First, let’s define self-care.

Healthy self-care requires an active and conscious choice to engage in activities that nourish you and help you maintain an optimal level of overall health.  As a loving parent, self-care requires a healthy lifestyle choice and making sure you get (and keep) your batteries charged, every day!  (let me say that again, every day)  As I focused less on making my kids happy, and more on keeping my batteries charged, my life started to change quickly.  I began to implement stress management strategies that not only worked for me, but they also helped my family.  I learned that relaxed parents are much more resourceful to children.

Self-care is not something new

It’s no secret that you need to eat well, exercise, get a good night of sleep.  To thrive as a parent, you need to eliminate the bad stuff like smoking, drinking, and over-eating.

What’s new, however, is the idea of self-care ventures beyond your physical wellbeing.  Healthy self-care is comprehensive.  It needs to focus on your biological, psychological, social and spiritual health.  This holistic approach helps you not only calm the chaos, but it helps you raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture a family that thrives!

The benefits of self-care

Numerous studies suggest that self-care tends to improve your immune systems, increase optimism, and decrease things like parental stress, anxiety, or depression.  Self-care is one of the best ways I know to help avoid emotionally reactive moments when kids act out. Even more, self-care enables you to become (and remain) a warm and responsive parent, even during a stressful day or kids who misbehave.

Taking time out of your busy day to read a good book, sip on a cup of tea, take a nap, take a bubble bath, write a list, play a computer game, or go out with friends is just what you need.  Ironically, practicing self-care reminds you, and more specifically, it tells others that YOUR needs are important, too.  When you practice self-care, it makes you a better caretaker, and here’s why.

  • Parents who neglect their own needs and forget to nurture themselves are far less attentive to the needs of their children.
  • Parents who practice healthy self-care and remember to nurture themselves are far more attentive to the needs of their children.

The reason?  If you lack self-care, you will not only struggle to meet your own needs.  You will struggle to identify, understand, or nurture the needs of others.  The reason?  “You can‘t give away what you don’t have.”

Self-care helps you regulate intense emotion

Your ability to emotionally self-regulate starts by tuning into your personal needs.  For example.  Are you feeling hungry?  Get your eyes off your kids and eat something.  Otherwise, you are likely to become a military drill sergeant.  Are you feeling tired?  Take a nap.  Are you feeling lonely?  Call a friend so you can connect.  In my parenting seminars, I help busy parents, just like you, identify and understand how to get (and keep) their batteries charged.  We talk about recognizing what you need to slow down and live a more balanced life.  Doing so will help you emotionally self-regulate, which generates better self-control and produces kids who behave better.

For your convenience, here are some self-care action-steps that help you emotionally self-regulate better:

  1. Go to bed earlier, so you’re more rested.
  2. Carve out some down-time AWAY from your children.  Do it shamelessly!
  3. Actively engage in hobbies.
  4. Connect with your partner more.
  5. Eat healthier and feed your brain for success.
  6. Transform the voice of your inner-critic into a voice of encouragement.  You deserve it!

Each of these action-steps will lower your stress and help keep your brain out of fight or flight mode.

A Point To Ponder

When I made self-care a daily habit, everyone won.  My wife, my kids… everyone!

If you want to learn how to raise your kids without raising your voice, then check out my latest parenting toolkit called, “How To Tame Tantrums Without Raising Your Voice.”  Parents love this practical toolkit!


Author: Steve Cuffari For many, Steve Cuffari is the mentor that parents call on to make their parenting style warmer, easier and more effective. He is the founder of InTouch Parenting, a company devoted to helping today’s parents calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture families that thrive. read more about Steve Cuffari here…


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