The Ultimate Guide to Parental Self-Care

Being with our little ones brings great joy, but parenting can be relentless and
exhausting. We all need some time to recharge our own batteries. This blog
highlights the importance of parental self-care for both you and your children. It
provides some ideas on how you can look after yourself whilst managing the
demands that parenting is throwing at you.


Don’t Minimise the Importance of Self-Care
Looking after yourself is one of the most important things you can do for your

We still often pay lip service to the importance of looking after ourselves. Instead, it
seems that we must be busy and exhausted to be a good parent. Self-care can be seen as indulgent, frivolous, unnecessary or selfish. All the evidence suggests the
exact opposite!
I believe that self-care is an absolute necessity for parents. When we look after
ourselves our children get the best version of us. We find it easier to manage trickier
times, stay calm in stressful situations and be patient and present with our children.
Children pick up on our emotional states much more than we realise. Emotions are
physiologically contagious (through “mirror neurons”) meaning that they will notice
whether we are relaxed and stressed, however well we try to hide it. This is true
even for little ones who haven’t yet learned language – in fact, their experiences of
the world often reflect ours. Your emotional wellbeing, therefore, has a direct impact
on your children.
We need to model to our children that looking after ourselves is part of life. We teach
them to brush their teeth and eat healthily but often forget that they need to learn to
look after their emotional wellbeing too. If they see us prioritising this, they are more
likely to understand that it is important.
It's not just about our children though. Self-care helps you feel more relaxed and
happier, something which can be hard to find when you have small children. It’s
amazing how good we can be at looking after others and not ourselves.
Unless we truly believe that we need to invest in looking after ourselves, and take
responsibility for it, we are not going to prioritise it. It can take effort to establish
better self-care, particularly when some of us have neglected ourselves for a long
time. The good news is that self-care takes many forms and you don’t have to jump
into making huge changes.
Don’t Forget to Reflect

Self-reflection is a crucial part of self-care

Before making any plans on how you could become all Zen, it’s worth spending a bit
of time thinking about yourself.
Ask yourself:
- What are my stress levels at the moment?
- What have I done for myself recently?
- What has helped me when I have been stressed in the past?
- Do I tend to my needs enough? (I often cut up carrot sticks for my children and
force water upon them only to forget about my own basic needs!)
- Am I aware of what I am feeling? It’s hard to tend to something that we aren’t
- Did my parents teach me about the importance of self-care? Am I following in
their footsteps with my own children?

Step Away from Self-Criticism and Unrealistic Expectations

Celebrate the small wins and savour the little things

I know it’s a bit of a cliché but we do need to be kind to ourselves. When I work with
parents, I am so often struck by the unrealistic expectations they set themselves,
how they can berate themselves for not getting it “right” and how much pressure they
put on themselves. We don’t seem to be good at treating ourselves with the respect
we afford others.
Aiming to be “good enough” is much more helpful than trying to be perfect. Just
accepting that you are doing your best, and that this is good enough reduces
pressure on yourself. It's OK to be vulnerable and feel overwhelmed at times.
Cuddling under a blanket, putting sad music on and having a good cry can actually
be quite helpful.
There’s no point in having time to yourself if your mind is not in the right place. For
example, having time apart from your children won’t be particularly restorative if you
feel guilty about it. We actually spend lots more time with our children than previous
generations but children prefer smaller doses of happy parents than larger doses of
stressed ones!
Try to set realistic expectations for yourself and don’t commit to things you can’t

The Recipe for a Healthy Mind

We need to nourish our minds

We all know about our 5 a day for optimal physical health, but have you ever
considered what feeds a healthy mind?

Here are the ingredients:

Sleep (8 hours - or thereabouts). If you have read Why We Sleep by Matthew
Walker you will be well aware of the importance of sleep for both mental and
physical health. Maybe hold off reading this when your children are really little
and you are chronically sleep deprived as it’s a bit scary! Really do try to
prioritise sleep (over most things). Keep digital devices out of the bedroom if
you can.

Physical time (30 minutes if possible). Getting the body moving whether you
are inside or out is really important. Not only does it improve your physical
health but it releases endorphins (chemicals which reduce stress).

Focus time. This is about focusing on one thing at a time. Although it’s not
easy with the multi-tasking demands of parenting you can factor it in. For
example, when my son is immersed in Duplo I make some too. The outcome might not be beautiful but I can step aside from everything else and really
concentrate on the task at hand.

Time in. This involves focusing your attention on your internal world – on your
feelings, thoughts and experiences. I understand this as equating to
mindfulness (which seems obligatory to mention when writing about self-
care!). There’s so much evidence that mindfulness is helpful and you can do it
anywhere. For example whilst eating a strawberry or brushing your teeth – it
doesn’t have to be a scheduled activity. If you can, try to stimulate and focus
on different senses, for example smell a scented candle, listen to music or
wallow in a hot bath.

Down time. This is about allowing time in the day when nothing needs to be
attended to. It’s much easier if you are in a good routine and feel reasonably
on top of the house. Try not to make social media your “go to” when you find
yourself with 5 minutes. Your brain does not need to be bombarded with
information all of the time, nor do you need the stress that other people’s
accounts can bring. Down time is about doing nothing (remember that?!) and,
most importantly, not feeling bad about it.

Play time. Both adults and children need time to be spontaneous and have
fun. It helps us feel safe and calm. Laughter is good for diffusing stress. It’s
one of the things that seems to go first when things are tricky so if you are
struggling to have fun try to find that inner child. We all have one somewhere!

Connecting time. Being connected with others is an integral part of self-
care, and the one I miss the most at the moment. Although it’s not the same,
do try to catch up with important people virtually.

There are five more ingredients I would add to the Healthy Mind Platter:

Get Outside. There’s loads of research of the benefits of being outside. Being
in nature really does have a positive impact on your body and mind. At the
moment the cold weather and lockdown may be restricting your normal
outward adventures so you could also bring your green space inside with
indoor plants. Interestingly, even looking outside has been proven to reduce

Be Grateful. Gratitude has been shown to have psychological, social and
even physical benefits (including higher quality sleep). You could write a
gratitude journal or just remind yourself the things you are grateful for.

Give. Chances are you are giving a lot right now! Giving can increase your
self-worth and positive feelings, as well as strengthen your connections,
sense of belonging and sense of community. It doesn’t have to be anything
big, but can make the world of difference to both you and the recipient.

 Ask for Help. Even though most people are finding life more difficult than
usual there will be people who want to support you. It can be harder to notice
from afar if someone is struggling so do ask for help if you need it. Even
something like a grandparent reading a story over FaceTime can give you a
much needed break. It’s a strength not a weakness to ask for help and this
includes emotional as well as practical support.

Consider your environment. Our physical environment is so important to
how we feel about ourselves. Living in a house of clutter only brings a chaotic
mind (I should know – I have been bought The Life-Changing Magical Art of
Tidying by Marie Kondo by 5 different people!). Try to create some order at
home as living with little ones can instil chaos so quickly.

Involve your Children
You don’t have to wait until your children are asleep before attending to your needs.
I heard somewhere that the average mum gets 17 minutes to herself every day. This,in my mind, is not enough (but sadly sounds pretty accurate). So, you ask, how can you fit any of these self-care activities in?
A shift in mindset is something that we need to work at but doesn’t need to be too
time consuming. Yes, it’s good to have some time to attend to our needs when we
are alone but this doesn’t mean we can’t also do so with our children around.
Many of the ideas I have talked about are possible with children (OK, so maybe not
too much focus time or meditation when your toddler is running riot or your baby is
screaming for milk but there are things you can do together).
For example, even little children can engage in breathing exercises and relaxation. I
sometimes set up a “massage room” before the children’s bedtime. I put on whale
music, get out essential oils and ensure that the children give me a massage as well
as me giving them one. It may not be on par with the top spa hotels but it certainly
serves to relax.
If you have more than one child try to have some one-to-one time. I make sure I take each of my children to a hotel for one night each year. This is just as much for me as it is for them! Obviously, that’s out of the question at the moment but a regular 10-minutes special time together is a good start.

Create a Self-Care Plan
 “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” (Alex Lakein)

Whilst this blog is still fresh in your mind, I urge you to make a self-care plan. It can
be in as much or as little detail as you like. Think about the ingredients in the
Healthy Mind Platter and consider what your recipe is for a healthy mind. It will be
different for all of us (I’m guessing watching Married at First Sight won’t be on many
of your plans but it is on mine!). If you’re really keen you could map out an average day, see what percentage of your time you spend in each area, and see what you could increase.
Right, I’m off to write my (realistic) self-care plan. I hope you have a healthy and
happy 2024. Look after yourselves…




About the author

Dr Sarah Mundy

Dr Sarah Mundy is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and author of Parenting
Through Stories. Sarah has worked with children and families for over 20 years and
is mum to three children.
Parenting Through Stories is an approach to help young children make sense of their experiences, particularly those that they, and their parents, find hard to manage. It Comprises a series of interactive children’s stories – Bartley’s Books – and a Parenting Handbook.


You can learn more on
Dr Sarah's services here and don't forget to follow her on instagram for more tips.