Self-Care Action Plan for Busy Parents

We hope you’ve enjoyed our series on “Be a Mom to Yourself, Too,” in which we’ve focused on the importance of self-care for busy moms in honor of Mother’s Day! Hopefully, you’ve taken some time to consider ways you could practice self-care more intentionally and learned some new ideas to try out in your life. As we wrap up the series today, we wanted to leave you with one last resource (for now!) on self-care. Below, you’ll find our Healthy Relationships Initiative Self-Care Action Plan, and you can download a pdf version of the Plan at the bottom of this post. Give some thought to the types of self-care practices that would fit best in your life and help you feel renewed and recharged, and then write them down so you can turn to these ideas when you need them!

Click here to download a pdf version of the HRI Self-Care Action Plan!

When Moms Feel Burnout

By Christine Murray, HRI Director

All moms may face feelings of burnout from time to time. It’s part of the territory of the intensity of the demands of parenting. Helpguide.org defines burnout as “a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” As joyful as parenting can be, it certainly can bring excessive and prolonged stress with it!

Burnout is more than just stress, however. If you’re feeling burned out, most likely you feel exhausted most of the time, a lack of motivation, disconnected from others and a sense of purpose, and possibly a lower sense of self-worth. As a mom, burnout can make you feel like you’re just going through the motions, and it may even become more difficult to feel emotionally connected to your child, even if you’re able to fully care for all of their needs.

To move beyond burnout, you’ll need more than just a few quick moments of relaxation. If you know or suspect that you’re experiencing burnout, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Take your experiences seriously. Feelings of burnout may pass on their own, but often intentional efforts are needed to move beyond burnout. If you’re starting to feel burned out, give yourself a reasonable timeline to see if the feelings will pass on their own, such as a week or two. If you reach your deadline and haven’t noticed an improvement, consider what additional steps you may need to take to more intentionally address these feelings.
  2. Lean into your social support network. Often, burnout is the result of people carrying more responsibilities than they can manage on their own. So, if you’re experiencing burnout, reach out to friends, family members, and your spiritual community for support. If you have a supportive spouse or partner, ask them to help carry more of the parenting and household responsibilities, even if for just a short period of time while you can rest and recover. Don’t be afraid to let others know you are overwhelmed–most likely, others will relate to your experiences and be happy to help.
  3. Seek professional help. When life becomes overwhelming, a professional counselor or therapist can help you identify new solutions and learn new ways of understanding and responding to your emotions. Look for a counselor who is experienced in working with parenting and family issues.
  4. Take care of yourself physically. Many moms sacrifice their own healthy habits to care for their children. Especially when children are very young, good sleep can be hard to come by, and kids at all ages keep their parents so busy that it can be hard to find time to prepare nutritious meals and get exercise. However, over time, neglecting your health can wear you down even further. Therefore, if you’re feeling burned out, consider ways to increase your physical health, such as by getting more rest, making time for exercise, and learning how to prepare nutritious, quick meals and snacks.
  5. Take time for reflection and personal growth. Burnout often is a sign that you’re feeling unfulfilled by your current life circumstances. It also can indicate that you previously held expectations that haven’t been met, so it may be time to readjust your expectations so that they are more achievable. Do what you can to create time in your life for quiet reflection, such as through meditation, prayer, or journaling. This time can help you evaluate what you may want to add (e.g., a new work opportunity or more time for friendships) to your life that is missing currently, or perhaps other things you want to cut out from your life (e.g., expectations about keeping a super-clean house) to help you make the most of your current life circumstances and find as much fulfillment in them as you can.

With all the demands that moms face in their day-to-day lives, it’s understandable why burnout can develop. Although burnout may be a normal experience among busy moms today, it’s important to take it seriously and reach out for help and take intentional steps to move beyond burnout when it arises. If you or someone you care about is facing burnout, consider the best steps to take to learn and grow from it, while also renewing and recharging to move toward greater energy and fulfillment in all areas of life.

Five-Minute Boosts for Busy Moms

By Christine Murray, HRI Director

Do you ever read articles about self-care for moms and laugh at the thought that you could actually find time to really practice self-care? Especially those articles that tell you to do it every day (just like the one I’m guilty of writing here!)? Talk about pressure–Now, not only do you have to do everything that you need to do as a mom, but you also have to add in time to take care of yourself! Self-care can start to feel more like an added obligation, rather than the source of renewal and relaxation that it’s supposed to provide.

If you’re a busy mom (and if you’re a mom, you are, by definition, busy), self-care often feels like a luxury that’s out of reach. But, as we’ve discussed throughout this series, self-care is an essential practice to help parents sustain their energy so that they can be the most effective parents they can be. Sometimes, however, all you have is a few minutes available to you, so it’s important to be prepared with brief but effective strategies to take care of yourself when you have the chance.

Every person has unique ways they like to recharge, so to get you started in thinking about some quick ways for you to practice self-care, consider the ideas on the following list. All of these self-care strategies can be done in five minutes or less (although many can be extended to take more time if you have them!):

  • Slow your breathing down and practice diaphragmatic breathing. To learn about this breathing technique, check out the following resource: http://www.psychology.uga.edu/sites/default/files/CVs/Clinic_Diaphragmatic_Breathing.pdf
  • Write your current stressors down in a journal. If being at a computer isn’t part of what causes you stress, consider keeping an electronic journal, especially if you type more quickly than you read.
  • Color with an adult coloring book that contains calming or inspiring images.
  • Keep a gratitude list. Write down things that you’re thankful for. You may keep this as a handwritten list or electronically on your computer or smartphone.
  • Play one of your favorite songs, especially one that brings back good memories.
  • Stretch your body, especially in areas of your body where you feel especially tense.
  • Look through old photos of happy memories.
  • Pray or meditate to release your stressors to your higher power.
  • Send a text message or quick email to a friend who you’ve lost touch with.
  • Close your eyes and spend time dreaming about your future. What goal or dream do you have for your life that you’d like to start pursuing?
  • Replace a negative thought with a more positive one. Identify a negative thought or belief that you’re saying to yourself, and consider a truthful, positive thought to repeat instead.
  • Intentionally cut yourself some slack. If you’re beating yourself up for something you’ve said or done, remind yourself that you’re human, you’re not perfect, and that everyone makes mistakes sometimes.
  • Step outside and get a breath of fresh air.
  • Take a quick walk or do some light exercises in place, such as jumping jacks. Getting your heart pumping for just a few minutes can help you feel recharged and bring you new energy.
  • Eat a nutritious snack. Try and be mindful while you’re eating it so you can appreciate its taste and flavors.
  • Go to bed five minutes earlier.
  • Do nothing! Just sit in stillness and enjoy a few moments with nothing to do or think about.

What other five-minute self-care practices would you add to the list? The most important thing is to find strategies that fit into your life and that work for you, so keep experimenting until you can find the best ways that help you recharge and keep your energy and spirits high!

A Mother’s Day Survival Guide for Single Moms

By Christine Murray, HRI Director

Holidays are supposed to be times of joy and celebrations. However, for people whose family circumstances aren’t exactly how they may want them to be, holidays can be really rough. In fact, holidays often highlight the stressors and challenges that come from difficult relationship and family circumstances, even when people have adjusted to these stressors on a more day-to-day basis.

Along these lines, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be very hard for single parents, whatever the circumstances led them to be a single parent. And so, with Mother’s Day fast approaching, today’s blog post will focus on helping single moms to make the most of the upcoming holiday and manage some of the difficult feelings and experiences that can come along with it. If you’re not a single mom, but if you know and care about someone who is, this post is for you, too, as you can think through ways you might offer support, encouragement, or celebration to help bring some joy to that mom on this Mother’s Day.

To all the single moms reading this: You deserve to be celebrated on Mother’s Day (and every day, of course)! However, depending on how old your children are and how much social support you have close to you, being celebrated on Mother’s Day might not happen as easily as it does for other moms. So, this Mother’s Day, I want to encourage you to give yourself permission to celebrate yourself and soak up as much celebration and support from others, including your children, as you can. To help make the most of Mother’s Day as a single mom, consider the following tips:

  1. Set realistic expectations.

Let me tell you about one of my own memorable Mother’s Day experiences, back in 2014. Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. I had decided I’d take the day off from housework, but then a mess led to an unavoidable load of laundry that needed to be done. I had planned a Mother’s Day craft to make with my kids, and the crafts turned out so bad that we had to throw them in the trash. My kids whined and yelled off and on all day. Then, a nice man offered to take our photo in the park, but the photo turned out like this:

What a mess that day turned out to be! I wish I could say that was my only Mother’s Day that didn’t go according to the plan, but 2014 was just one of the many that have gone down like that over the years.

For many years, Mother’s Day for me was always a huge disappointment. I somehow expected that my children would understand that Mother’s Day was my special day and magically give me a day free from misbehavior, crying, whining, and/or fussing. I thought I’d get to sit back and be celebrated and appreciated all day–for just this one day that was supposed to be mine.

That kind of thinking made for some really difficult Mother’s Days for me until I realized I needed to go into the day with more realistic expectations. That same misbehavior, crying, whining, and fussing that happens every other day? Well, most likely, I’ll see it on Mother’s Day, too. There’s always lots of good behavior and fun as well, so I needed to learn to accept the bad with the good.

I had to learn to set realistic expectations for what Mother’s Day might look like. This is especially important for single moms who may not have another adult on hand all day to help manage the challenging parts of parenting that day. So, if you’re a single mom, take time before Mother’s Day to examine your expectations for the day, and adjust them to be more realistic if needed. Going into the day with realistic expectations will help avoid setting yourself up for the disappointment and frustration that can come from setting too high of a goal for what it would take to give you a good holiday.

  1. Consider your social media usage on Mother’s Day.

I’m not going to tell you that you have to stay off of all social media on Mother’s Day. However, if the thought of scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram page and seeing your friends’ pictures of their spouses serving them breakfast in bed, bringing them flowers, or sending them to the spa for hours of pampering makes you feel jealousy, sadness, or insecurity about your own situation, then it’s a good idea for you to consider limiting how much you’ll engage with social media on Mother’s Day.

Social media usage can lead you to compare your own life with the lives of others, which may lead you to feel worse about your own situation. Social comparison via social media can kill your your joy, and it’s unfair to compare your life to others’ in this way. Remember that people often present the best versions of themselves on social media, so their posts may not reflect their own challenges and struggles on Mother’s Day–and every day.

As Mother’s Day approaches, take time to consider if it would help you to limit your social media usage on the holiday. Also, think through how you can monitor your thoughts and feelings if you do use social media, such as by noticing if negative emotions come up or if you start comparing yourself to others.

  1. Teach your children how to celebrate you.

Teach your children about the meaning of Mother’s Day and why it’s important to take time to celebrate you on this day. This may feel sort of silly or uncomfortable, and you might feel like you’re being selfish or vain asking to be celebrated in this way. If you feel this discomfort, do it anyway! This isn’t just about being celebrated on this one day–it’s about teaching your children a valuable life lesson about the importance of intentionally celebrating the important people in their lives.

Think of it this way: If your own children become parents someday, how would you want them to treat their future spouse on Mother’s or Father’s Day? How do you want them to treat you on future Mother’s Days when they’re adults? By teaching your children to honor you on Mother’s Day, you’re instilling an important value in them that will help them have stronger relationships throughout their lives.

As Mother’s Day approaches, take time to talk with your children about holidays and why it’s important to celebrate people on special days like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. With younger children, you might find a picture book at your local bookstore or library to help explain the importance of this day. Older children might be interested in learning about the history of Mother’s Day.

Beyond just teaching your child about Mother’s Day, help them find a developmentally-appropriate way to celebrate you. For older children, this may mean doing extra help with chores or serving you breakfast in bed. Younger children may enjoy making you a craft or personal card. One fun way to allow your children to treat you on Mother’s Day is to give them a small amount of money to spend at a store (my favorite is the dollar store!), and then let them pick out things they think you’d like. At the very least, you’ll get a laugh out of seeing what they pick! And, even though they’re spending your money, you’re starting to help them learn how to think about other people’s likes so they can give thoughtful gifts to others on their special days.

  1. Plan something that you want to do on Mother’s Day.

In the days leading up to Mother’s Day, think about what you can do to make the most of the holiday this year. Do you like spending time outside? Plan to visit a local park or gardens. Do you enjoy being active and getting exercise? Make plans to take the kids with you for a walk or run. Or do you prefer relaxing and being still? Maybe a movie would be a good plan for the day. Whatever you like to do, consider how you can build time for it into your day.

What if your kids don’t like your plan? Again, think of this as an opportunity to teach them to celebrate others on their special days. Let’s say you decide you want to go out for Mexican food for Mother’s Day, but your kids start whining that they don’t like Mexican food. Seize the teaching moment before you and talk with them about why Mother’s Day is your special time, and they can help you have the best day by going with you and helping you to have a good time eating the food you like with you. Then, do your best to enjoy the experience, even if their behavior isn’t perfect!

You put your own needs to the side so much so that you can make your kids happy, so take time on Mother’s Day to indulge in something that will make you feel happy and fulfilled. And remember: You’re not just doing this for yourself, but also to show your kids that moms deserve to do the things they like to do, too!

  1. Enlist support from friends and family.

I hope you have a solid support network around you. Positive social support is so crucial to single parents every day, and especially on holidays. To help avoid feeling alone or isolated on Mother’s Day, reach out to you friends and family members to see who is available to get together. This can be hard on holidays, when many people focus on spending time with their own families. However, especially if you don’t have extended family members nearby, try to see who you could connect with for some Mother’s Day fun together.

Be patient with friends or extended family members who don’t realize the unique challenges you face as a single mom on Mother’s Day. Many people who haven’t walked that road themselves don’t understand how lonely and isolating holidays can be for single parents. Instead, talk with trusted friends and family members to let them know what it’s like for you, and don’t be afraid to ask for help and support that you need. For example, you might say, “I always feel a little lonely on Mother’s Day since I don’t have a spouse to help my kids do something for me. Do you think you’d be willing to help me out a little this year on Mother’s Day?” Many friends and family members would be happy to lend a hand, but they just don’t know what your needs are unless you tell them! And, if you know other single moms, be sure to reach out to them on Mother’s Day as well. Send them an encouraging text message, give them a call, or plan to spend some time  that day so you don’t have to celebrate on your own.

  1. Honor any hurting feelings that come up.

Despite all your best efforts to make the most of your Mother’s Day, know that it’s normal for difficult feelings to come up for single parents on holidays. You may face reminders of past holidays when a former relationship was intact, you may feel sadness when you see married friends be celebrated by their spouses, or you may get frustrated and exhausted when your kids misbehave. You may feel a lot of pressure to pretend like everything is okay, especially when you see media images of perfect mothers being celebrated. However, it’s important to honor your feelings, and know that it’s normal to have hurting feelings, even on holidays. It just means you’re human!

Consider how best to honor those emotions as they come up. You might talk through them with a close friend, write about them in a journal, or take a few quiet moments for reflection. You may also find it helpful to talk them through with a professional counselor or therapist. These hurting feelings can offer powerful insights to help you heal and also to embrace your life as a single mom, as they also offer clues to parts of your life experiences that you still may not have come to terms with. Take time to recognize and honor any emotions that come up for you on Mother’s Day, and remember that it’s normal to have some hurting feelings even on days that society tells us are supposed to be full of happiness and celebration.

  1. If all else fails, remind yourself you’ll have another chance next year!

You may take all the steps above, and still find that your Mother’s Day experience falls short. You may reach the end of the day and feel disappointment and sadness. Those valuable life lessons about celebrating other people on their special days just may not have gotten through to your children, leaving you feeling unappreciated and undervalued. You may be wishing you could have a do-over, but you know it’ll be another 365 days until you have another shot at a better Mother’s Day.

I wish I could offer you that Mother’s Day do-over, but instead the best I can offer is a reminder that Mother’s Day will roll around again, and you’ll have another chance next year. But, better yet, all of the tips listed above can be practiced any day! Your do-over can come the next day, and the day after, and the day after that. That’s part of the beauty in motherhood. Each day brings new challenges and stress, but it also brings the opportunity for a fresh start. As a single mom, you are uniquely positioned to be the kind of mother that you want to become, and it’s a daily process of figuring out what that will look like and how to make it happen. So, when Mother’s Day doesn’t go as you planned, release that day but look to the lessons you can learn from it, and then turn around the next day–and all the days after that–and use those lessons to continue to become the best version of yourself that you can be.

Single moms–Know that Mother’s Day is a special day for you. You may have to get a little creative and to make it the kind of day that you want it to be, and you also may have to release some of society’s, as well as your own, expectations of what the day is “supposed” to look like. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have on Mother’s Day, take time to celebrate and honor what you do have–strength, courage, and the love of and for your children. 

Counseling and Self-Care

By Christine Murray, HRI Director

Being a mom is hard work. It brings so many new challenges that it can make your head spin! With each passing stage of children’s development, parents and caregivers face new questions about how to best care for their children (and themselves and their relationships). Add other demands–such as work, managing personal finances, community involvement, and extended family concerns–to the mix, and it’s easy to see why many parents often feel overwhelmed on a daily basis.

As a professor in a counseling program, I’m a strong believer in the power of counseling to help busy parents cope with the big and small stressors that come along with raising children, along with addressing a variety of other mental health, life, and relationship challenges they may face. According to the American Counseling Association, counseling is defined as “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.” Therefore, counseling offers many potential benefits to parents and caregivers, and seeking counseling can be a powerful tool for self-care as a parent.

Some of the ways that counseling can support moms in practicing self-care include the following:

  • Counselors can offer you validation for your feelings and experiences.
  • Counseling offers time for yourself, away from the demands of everyday life, in which you can take time for reflection and greater self-awareness.
  • Counseling can provide a space for you to think through how to solve the problems you’re facing, along with the guidance of a trained professional.
  • A counselor can help you to recognize “blind spots,” or areas of your life that may be contributing to your problems that you haven’t noticed before.
  • Counselors can offer you tools for relaxation and stress management.
  • Working with a counselor can help you to know that you’re not alone when major life challenges arise.

There is no need for shame in reaching out for help from a trained mental health professional. If you’re interested in finding a counselor, there are resources available to help you do so. Some resources for locating a counselor are as follows:

Locally, the United Way’s 2-1-1 service (http://www.unitedwaync.org/nc211) also is available to help community members connect with counseling and other resources in Guilford County.

 

Be a Mom to Yourself, Too: Series Introduction

By Christine Murray, HRI Director

Being a mom means that you spend a lot of time, energy, and effort caring for others. Most moms I’ve met invest this time and energy not only into their children, but into others in their lives–including their spouses or partners, extended family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers–as well as into their careers and other areas in which they impact the community, such as through volunteering. All too often, moms put themselves at the bottom of the list of people to care about, if they make it on their own lists at all.

For our Healthy Relationships Initiative Mother’s Day series, we are encouraging moms to put self-care higher on their to-do lists. Practicing self-care isn’t selfish. Instead, it’s an essential part of being able to effectively carry out the demanding, yet rewarding, job of mothering.

Moms: Have you ever thought of what it would look like if you treated yourself the way you treat your kids? Being a mom to yourself means that you honor your own needs, emotions, and life goals in the same way that you honor your children’s.

Even as grown adults, we all need people looking out for us and taking care of us. Hopefully, you’ve got a support network of friends and family members who offer this to you (and taking time to nurture your friendships is an important way to practice self-care!). But, are you a member of your own support network? Do you make an effort to care for yourself and your needs? Your health and wellness are important, too!

Look at this picture of a fountain:

The water that flows from the top fills the larger tubs beneath it, until they also can overflow and spill out their water as well. What happens if the top of the fountain dries up? The rest of the fountain will eventually dry up as well.

Moms, you are like the very top of that fountain. The gifts (such as time, energy, and attention) that flow from you help to fill the lives of the people around you. You fill them up so they can grow and go on to help others. But, you’ve got to keep your part of the fountain flowing to keep the system going in a healthy and complete way.

As you celebrate Mother’s Day this month, take time to celebrate yourself and make a commitment to showing yourself some motherly love as well! Decide how you will nurture and care for yourself, just as you do for so many others around you.

Throughout this series, we’ll offer suggestions and tools to support busy moms in practicing self-care. Whether you’ve got 5 minutes or can plan extra time to recharge, we hope this series will inspire you–and give you permission to care for yourself, too!