Well, it's not even the end of the second week of 2021 and here I am writing a post all about how hard things have already felt this year, and with that in mind, the lockdown self-care I am doing to help me and my family weather the ups and downs of this latest lockdown.
While I stand by many of the things I included in this post all about what helped me survive 2020 (and nearly four months of lockdown with kids at home), and I am doing as many of them as I possibly can, there are very noticeable differences between last year's lockdown which began in spring and went through to the summer, and this current lockdown which is in the middle of winter.
It's also true that this time there is more for me to do with my eldest son's home learning as the school have created more organised activities and have asked for more input from parents, so that's been another demand on my time, but more on that below!
While this post is about self-care in lockdown it's not your typical list of self-care acts. If you're looking for something like that, I can recommend this post. This post is more about the routines, acts and mindset shifts that are helping me top-up my self-care in lockdown.
In the first section of this post, I share the self-care that is helping me right now to manage my own mental health, and then in the second section, I share the self-care, or more general things, that are helping us as a family navigate lockdown life with a very full-on, active 2-year-old and a 5-year-old that needs support with home learning.
I also want to point out that I am not working full-time right now, partly in order to stay home and care for my children. I am a freelance writer and blogger and work a little bit each day in the evenings or when my youngest son naps, and I also have a short day once a week to do some writing, catch up on tasks and do what I can in that time. My partner works full-time at an office away from our home that only he occupies (he runs his own business). We have great privilege that we have this flexibility but it is not 100% by design as working in the travel industry has greatly slowed down what work and income I do get. But that's another story for another day!
Regardless of your situation, I believe self-care in lockdown is a real priority and hopefully you get some ideas here.
The Lockdown Self-Care That is Helping Me Right Now
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and while it is of limited comfort, it's also true that simply knowing that I have done a lockdown like this before, and I have survived this before, and it wasn't all a total mess, has brought me some reassurance and hope that we will get through this hard time.
One of the ways this quickly kicked in was when I instantly prioritised many small but significant self-care activities that I know help me through stressful times, specifically to achieve certain things; enough rest (and ideally sleep), a calm (as possible) mind, and managing my energy and focus. This self-care in lockdown is listed below, but for general easy, quick and free self-care you can find 100 free self-care acts here that could be worth you reading through for some other ideas.
Taking Melatonin at Night
Let's quickly talk about sleep, because sleep makes everything a bit easier and not getting enough decent sleep is key when you're in a challenging or unusual time. That said, the stress of lockdown or any situation is very likely to mess up your sleep patterns so I really do mean it when I say prioritise getting good sleep, or failing that good rest.
In addition to my anti-anxiety drugs (which I've written a bit more about here and in this post too) when this latest lockdown was announced I stocked up on melatonin to take before bed on the days when I experienced more stress than usual. I have taken melatonin to help me sleep on and off for years and it's a great way to help you feel more drowsy at the end of the day and for me it helps me wind down ready for sleep if I take it about an hour or so before I hope to fall asleep. I also sometimes take it when I wake in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep, but do this with caution because the last thing we all need is to feel more tired in the morning!
Extra Blanket (Or Weighted Blanket)
Sticking with sleep, in the run up to Christmas I was really struggling to get a decent night's sleep and realised that this wasn't going to cut it if it kept happening. One of the things I wanted to try was turning down the thermostat in our room as I would sometimes wake up quite warm and uncomfortable.
Conversely this made me wake up cold one night and so I pulled out a big bed throw and folded it multiple times and placed it on top of me. Now, I'm not sure if it was the weight of this blanket and/or the cooler room temperature but I slept better that night than I have in a long time.
Many people swear by weighted blankets for easing anxiety and making you feel more grounded so it's not exactly a new hack, but I want to drop it here in case you want to try it.
Headspace Meditation Guide & App
The final thing that has been helping me get ready for bed, and just relax in general, is doing the Headspace Guide to Meditation on Netflix. I first did meditation with some regularity when I was pregnant with my second son and basically doing anything and everything I could do to try and prepare for his birth and the subsequent post-partum period. As that time had been so hard after my first son's birth, I was basically trying to do anything and everything available to me to try and not succumb to post-natal depression and anxiety a second time.
I cannot say definitively if the meditation was the key to a much more positive birth and post-partum experience - I was also doing intensive therapy and I prioritised my rest and self-care - but when I look back on that time I fondly remember how connected I felt with myself, my inner strength, and with feeling calm.
I have got the Headspace app on my phone still from when I was pregnant and I have re-opened it and done a few of the guided meditations on there as well as the Netflix episodes which I watch just before I go to bed. I know that falling asleep is not the goal of meditation, but we are in a needs must situation and it has really, really helped me over the last week.
Obtainable Monthly Goals
So I know in this post I said I wasn't going to be making any new year's resolutions or any big professional goals this year, but I kinda did. Actually, that's not true. I haven't made any new year's resolutions, but I have written a list of goals, but it's not for the whole year. It's list of all the things I would like to do this month, and it's a mix of both personal and professional goals.
I did this for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to put on paper some of the things I would like to do with my time this month. While yes, I will have considerably less me-time in January (and likely in February too), this has actually made me want to make the most of it and I know myself too well. If I don't write down exactly what I want to do (and to a certain extent HOW I do it) then I will lose focus, slow momentum, and I then risk getting preoccupied with something else that is fine but may not be what I really want to achieve.
My second reason for writing this list was that having a list of things to do, and crossing them off, is something that often helps me from a mental health perspective. I like being able to look back on a chunk of time and see what I achieved (it's why this post was a really big mood booster even though at first reflection 2020 felt like anything but a "success").
Even though I'm only going to get maybe 8-10 hours a week to work, write or do stuff on my own, I know from experience that that time can easily add up and much can be done in small chunks of time, if you use them the right way. Right now in my current frame of mind, having some focus for that time now, and in the future looking back on what I achieved in January 2021 will help me keep perspective too.
Also, on a practical level, life goes on and I still have a lot of work and admin things to do to keep some income trickling in and to keep some work-family-life balance, so I really do need to make sure I do these things for practical reasons too. My hope is that at the end of 2021 I will be able to see just how much I've done each and every month at a much higher level than just the day-to-day tasks that need to be done.
There is one important thing I want to add about these monthly goals I'm setting...
... Including Fun Goals!
Yes. These goals I'm setting are not just for my blog, books and other work. They are also relating to fun stuff! Most specifically, I have set myself the goal of completing a quick and easy crochet project, and I have also challenged myself to read three books this month.
There are also two very fun and quick goals on there; namely make cinnamon buns one day, and row 50 kilometres in January. Okay, that wasn't so much of a fun goal but it is still one I will be proud to achieve!
Get Outside Every Day
At the very beginning of the new year, I had a mini-meltdown as I panicked about how I was going to face this new lockdown when I was already feeling so very exhausted. After a big cry to my mum, one of the pieces of advice she said was, "Try and get outside every day" and that really stuck with me.
Vitamin D from sunshine is really important at this time of the year, for everyone, and I am very much a believer in the power of fresh air to blow away the cobwebs and boost your mood. FYI, the sun doesn't actually need to be shining brightly in order for you to get some UV rays and Vitamin D, but of course, it really, really helps! Last week I therefore made getting outside every day a goal and while we didn't do it every day as a family, I did manage to stick to it myself.
Drinking More Water
Anybody else experience stress acne and find that lockdown life is a big trigger? While, I'm not worrying too much about this - it's life, lockdown life! - and it's not like I'm going out anywhere anytime soon, am trying to remind myself about some of the things I can do to try and help my skin.
One of these is drinking more water and I almost face-palmed myself at the turn of the new year because I realised most days I only drink one or two full glasses of water, and the rest of the time I'm drinking tea or coffee. Also over the festive period, my alcohol intake had gone up which basically means you need even more water. This was all less than ideal! The last few days I have made more of an effort to drink more water and while I can't say that my skin has vastly improved (yet - I live in hope!) I do genuinely feel better in myself.
While I'm not yet ready to reduce the amount of tea or coffee I drink, what I now try to do is have a medium glass of water in between each tea or coffee I have, and then drink two of these at lunch and dinner times. I am also gradually reducing how much alcohol I drink and switching to more decaffeinated teas.
Taking My Vitamins
See comment about Vitamin D deficiency. Our bodies need all our vitamins more than ever. Give yourself a helping hand and get those vitamins in your body every single day. So with my first glass of water I take a multivitamin, magnesium, and extra Vitamin D.
Before the clean-eating brigade pull up and shout at me, yes, I know that vitamins and nutrients are always best absorbed through your food and I still eat with this in mind, but I also have off-days or my fridge is running low on fresh fruit and vegetables, so taking a vitamin tablet just helps me know I am getting what I need.
Having Low Expectations, but Keeping a Small Space for Hope
2020 will be remembered for many reasons, but one of the few good lessons I learned last year is how to prepare for the worst, but keep hopeful at the same time. It's definitely not easy to do, and I think it's very normal for the balance to swing more towards disappointment one day, and towards hope the other, or to stay stuck in disappointment for a few days, but I always, always try to leave space for a little bit of hope.
When our latest lockdown was announced and also extended I felt a lot of disappointment, and frustration, and I let myself feel that way before I then started to nurture hope again. The one good thing about this not being our first lockdown (at least here in the Netherlands) is that these cycles of emotions are starting to feel almost familiar and so our brains aren't getting so tired dealing with them. Likewise, we know from experience that better days will come...
Being More Honest with Everyone (Especially Myself!)
Again and again I have experienced that when I am honest with those around me that I'm struggling, it is often the first step in shifting some of that heavy load. It's not a foolproof plan and I clearly haven't learned very well from my previous experience as I keep re-discovering this, but it's very, very true that when I am honest about what I'm finding hard, this often brings some relief and respite.
With a little hindsight now, I can also see that in general, I am being more honest with myself - or maybe quicker in being honest with myself - about the hard moments I experience this lockdown. Rather than ignoring them or beating myself up for them, I have found it easier and I also find a sense of ease can then return, when I simply acknowledge them for what they are; hard. Again, I think the exercises I have been doing with meditation and Headspace have helped here.
Being MUCH Kinder to Myself
This sort of falls into the latter point but I have separated it because I really need to remember this.
When I cut myself a break, small or big, I am not only making my own life easier but also so many other people's. It's not easy to do, heck, it often feels downright unnatural, but I know it works much better than the alternative, which is not being kind, or actively showing myself unkindness, and when you phrase it like that it feels like something you should never do to yourself.
Some lockdown self-care acts that have been examples of me actively shown myself kindness include opting for a freezer meal or a take-away when cooking yet another meal feels too much, taking breaks to do very little during the middle of the day as and when I can, and most effective and arguably easiest of all, is using affirmation. By telling myself kind things, like "I'm doing great", "I am a wonderful mother", "I can do hard things", and "Everything is going to be okay." I give myself reassurance, break negative thought spirals and make small changes to my mindset. I also like my sons to hear me saying things like this to myself, but we'll get more into this and how we do self-care with my kids down below!
You can read more about how and why affirmation works on my blog and you can grab yourselves some great positive affirmations for every day use, affirmations for stress and anxiety, as well as some for depression, but in short, affirmation is about nurturing a positive and on-going conversation with yourself to counteract negative thought spirals and even intrusive thoughts. To be clear, I am not a medical professional or therapist, but I am someone who has been practicing affirmation for nearly five years and I believe whole-heartedly that it works. Not all the time, and not in the instant, life-changing way I would maybe hope, but it works.
P.S. If you're a writer, you definitely need to check out my little creative side project, WriteNOW Affirmation Cards for Writers.
Asking for Help
It follows from all the above that if I am honest with myself and also kind to myself, I find it much easier to ask for help.
Right now this is actually quite a hard thing to do because we are all at some level of capacity or overwhelm when it comes to dealing with everything that is happening to ourselves, our families and friends, and on a global scale. But sometimes the kind of help we need is more available than we think.
For example, my friend had a little cry on the phone with me the other day and she instantly apologised acknowledging how everyone has it hard and that she didn't want to add to my own load, but I really didn't see it like that at all. In fact, her having a bit of a cry and release with me about what she was finding it hard was great to help me take my mind off what I was finding hard, for me to think about the things that make me feel better so I could help her (and remind myself!), and I also felt useful as a human being! Never underestimate the power of purpose, however small or fleeting.
Of course, this relates better to the kind of emotional support and help we may all be craving right now. When it comes to practical or logistical help, which is also what a lot of us need right now, it is indeed a bit more complicated. But there is no harm in asking for help, and frankly, if you don't ask for it, you won't get it so when it's all weighed up it seems a risk worth taking, to me.
Again small things can go a long way here. For example, ask a friend if they can take one of your kids to the park when they go, or find out when someone is going to the shops and see if they can get you the essentials you need to tie you over for another week. Similarly, if you have a friend who enjoys cooking (and you really don't) then ask them if they can make you extra portions of her meals for your freezer and you can pay them.
Also, it's worth taking a moment to acknowledge who in your life you can turn to for emotional support, and to prioritise and nurture that relationship like your life depends on it. As I acknowledged in this post, sometimes last year it felt like my well-being really did depend on a few wonderful souls and so sending them love and encouragement is a top near-daily priority of mine.
Things That Have Helped with the Kids at Home During Lockdown
So, those are the general mindset switches, and practical self-care things I'm doing in lockdown that actually help with my mood and my day-to-day life, but now let's dive into what specifically is helping me with my kids at home during lockdown. Man of these things relate to how our day is structured, and what we do (or don't do!) and so it's worth you knowing that my kids are currently two and five, and I have to do around 1-2 hours of Montessori-based home learning with my eldest, which is different to the last lockdown when there wasn't any structured home learning.
Another change compared with the last lockdown is that last time, I mostly decided to keep my self-care activities separate or hidden away from my kids. This time I have more consciously put my own self-care in the spotlight both because I need to make it a priority for my own mental health, but also because I don't want them (or me!) to think that I don't need to do things for myself or take care of myself. So whenever is possible (which isn't very often!) I like to do self-care with or in front of them but we'll get to that in a moment!
Let's firstly dive into the practical things that are working well for us in lockdown right now.
Routine (and Mini-Routines)
Once upon a time when my eldest was a little baby who wouldn't sleep more than 30 minutes at a time (yes, even at night), I first heard about routines for babies and I started trying them. While they didn't work perfectly for my son - unless you call waking up every 45-60 minutes an improvement! - they did work for me. Knowing what was coming next and and what the rest of the day was going to look like really helped me get through days and weeks that I thought would never end.
It takes a bit of time and it always has to be approached with a decent dollop of flexibility, but I have found doing similar kinds of things at similar times every day (at least every week day) really helps both me and my kids navigate these Groundhog lockdown days at home.
I don't schedule everything down to the minute, in fact I try to do things in 30 minute - 1.5 or 2 hour chunks, aside from morning/evening routines and meal-times, and I think more in terms of energy than I do time of day.
For example, I am a natural morning person so even if I'm tired (and I'm nearly always tired!) I will have more energy in the morning than afternoon so I try to get us all ready and out to do a walk first thing after breakfast, and this also gives us all a reason to get dressed! Following this we do my eldest's school work and what I call 'busy play" or activities (so noisier and more active tasks and toys) and then we break for lunch around 11.30 or 12. My youngest has an afternoon nap (most days!) for 1 - 1.5 hours at around 12.30/13:00 and my eldest and I then also have quiet time with screens where I try to do some work.
Our afternoon is for "quieter activities" and more independent play so that I can not do too much as this is when I start to feel really tired or just don't quite have the same energy for playing or entertaining, and I need to do laundry, tidying up and making dinner then. If all else fails, I put on a Cosmic Kids yoga video for us all to do together, or the TV just goes on to keep the small people happy and quiet while I do what I need to. If I do have energy, we may attempt another walk or playing outside. This is also when my sons may have play-dates with other kids (which is permitted at the moment here in the Netherlands).
With our daily routine we have a number of mini-routines. These mini-routines are essentially little rituals that I use to help keep my two-year-old occupied while my eldest is doing his school work, but also to get both kids involved in helping out more in the house; something that can take up quite a bit of time, occasionally help me out, but also is often a good lesson for them to learn early.
These include my two-year-old helping me empty and load the dishwasher, him helping with my mid-morning coffee routine (he is surprisingly good at frothing milk!), they both help me bag up and take recycling to the bins on our street (and we try to do a little every day to keep on top of it), and both kids know where to get their coat, shoes and hats out when it's time for a walk. I am hoping to add more "mini-routines" to our day so that they can help out more with doing things for themselves, and we can have a little bit more structure to our daily routine (there is often resistance for that morning walk!).
All this is to say, "having a routine" should always be something that serves YOU ALL, or even JUST YOU! And it doesn't need to be a rigid schedule that you are beholden too. Furthermore, you may want to think more about your energy rather than how much you want to squeeze into your day. This also may help you break free from a "should" mentality because that is the last thing we all need in our lives right now, more "shoulds".
(Looser) Rules About Screentime
As I've written previously about how we embrace the benefits of screentime in our house, it may be no surprise that by the time the last lockdown was over, we had almost no screentime rules at all. Honestly speaking, liberal screentime - both TV and iPad helped us all get through the hardest lockdown days, and this one probably won't be any different.
However, there has been a slight change in our circumstances regarding screentime as my youngest son is now much more aware of TV, watches it for longer and has MUCH stronger opinions on what he wants to watch. And what he wants to watch is rarely what my eldest wants to watch, so you can see where this is going (argument- and tantrum-central!). After the first few weeks of having to referee both of them and how our remote control was being used, and after watching Paw Patrol on repeat for hours a day, I knew that we were going to have to re-visit how we used screentime. As I say in this post, as soon as it becomes a problem, we make changes, and that's what we are now actively doing.
The TV is now only on for around an hour before and after breakfast while my partner and I shower and get ready for the day. Then no screens while we do morning activities, unless I have to help my son more with his school work in which case my youngest gets to choose what he watches. They can have TV together - but they have to agree!) - for a while as I get ready for lunch, and tidy up a bit afterwards - and then my eldest gets his tablet for his games and some Netflix while my other boy is napping. After this it's all screens off until when I need to start making dinner. And after that we are liberal with what they watch, although we find they actually often now get bored and will start playing or doing something else after an hour or so.
In short, yes, my kids watch a lot of TV. But I am not trying to win any prizes during this lockdown, nor am I keen on putting myself through extra daily stress or strain on my already quite fragile mental health when there are things I can do that help us all. My kids don't want to be around a stressed parent, and because we are intentional about what our kids watch (we don't have terrestrial or satellite TV so no networks with advertising), for our family screentime has more positives than negatives. But again we will continue reviewing and tweaking how we use it so that it stays that way!
Time for (Learning) Activities, Resting and Independent Play
As I mentioned above, I recently re-structured our day so that we were doing similar things at roughly the same time (or in the same order at least) each day, and these were all activities that related to energy more than anything else. The mornings are for school-based activities,midday to early afternoon is for sleeping and resting, and the rest of the afternoons are for more free, and independent play.
So what exactly do we do during these times? My son's school are providing some guidance and tasks for his home learning, and that has proven enough for him to do during our learning time and "busy play". I usually take 10 minutes to set up the activity immediately after clearing up breakfast things and that helps us all dive straight into the activities once we get back from a walk. I also have pencils, colouring and activity books on standby in case he still wants to do more once we've done the school's tasks. Also these are things he can do solo in case I need to go and tend to my youngest.
During this, I try to have crayons and paper ready for my two-year-old to play with should he also want to sit at the table. Playdoh and sometimes (if I'm ready for the mess!) painting can work well, but also I find just having some cars, a puzzle or two, some Duplo blocks or other kind of building activity helps keep him busy enough although we do need to switch up these activities every 10-20 minutes, which is honestly, the hardest part of my mornings. Hence why sometimes the TV goes on so I can just focus on my eldest's school work.
For me, knowing that I can get the school work done, usually by midday, that takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders for the rest of the day. Also very importantly, it has helped greatly that my eldest now has to tidy up the school activities before we get ready for lunch or before he can play with something else. It's amazing how much this helps!
I think I've already covered what we do for quiet and resting time above but in summary, my youngest son (usually!) sleeps for 1-2 hours, and my eldest and I sit down together and he does some games on a tablet and I do work, writing or other admin on my laptop.
Now to independent play time. One of the downsides I was noticing with a lot of TV time was that my youngest was getting less keen to play independently, or with his big brother (without a fight!). For me, playing independently is one of those real gifts that keep on giving with kids; they learn to be happy in their own company, to indulge their imagination, to explore and start playing by themselves, or occasionally with each other.
Of course, independent play requires a safe space to just that, and our boys have a playroom that is exactly that, albeit with some risks for my youngest as he's still occasionally putting things in his mouth etc. However, this is one way independent play has been encouraged in our home; likewise me just sitting down in a corner of the play area with a cup of tea, or setting up a game or a tower of bricks has sometimes helped to get them more motivated to explore and play. You may also want to read about our top five gender-neutral, timeless and most played with toys.
Annoyingly, another thing that really helps, and I am struggling to get their help with this - what a game changer that would be! - but having a tidy and clear place to play REALLY helps with instigating independent play so I do try, as much as possible, to keep these spaces as tidy as possible although I'm perfectly happy to admit there are many days when I also just let the mess be.
One other thing that really helps is if I keep off my phone. I find if I'm reading a book or a magazine, or doing some crochet, my boys are much more likely to keep playing without begging for my attention than they are if I'm on my phone or laptop (which I no longer even try to do now, to be honest!).
Quiet Time for ALL Every Day
I'm just adding this one as a separate point because I think it's worth re-iterating how important this quiet time is for my "survival" when I have the kids at home with me day after day.
If your kids are too old to sleep during the day or their energy is constantly quite full-on even at the middle of the day or in the afternoon, I recommend doing whatever you can to identify a window wherever you can where you really indulge your own needs or desires, rather than constantly shaping your day to your children's needs. I know this is easier said than done and everybody's situations are different, but if you are the kind of person who needs rest or quiet to fill your cup and keep going, then please, please, please prioritise this.
Getting Outside (Most Days) Even If Just for Ten Minutes
Again as mentioned before, getting outside has proven really important for my own mental health. I was also applying this logic to my kids and for the most part I do think it's true, However, I will say that there have been some days when the struggle of putting winter coats, gloves, hats, socks and shoes on my kids and getting outside was 100% NOT worth it.
Kids can really dig their heels in when they want to and when it's cold outside and not particularly inviting it can feel like a lot of work to get outside. On these days I try to apply the Ten-Minute Rule whereby I spend ten minutes trying to get them ready and if after ten minutes they are still making life difficult, I stop bothering. Likewise, once we are outside, after ten minutes if we're not all having fun then we just go home.
Letting Bad Days Go
As I wrote in this post about how hard I find it dealing with a crying baby, I also find it very hard to have bad days with my kids for any other reasons (although crying, moaning and shouting are often part of one such bad day!). This is usually when a fatal combination of things occur; one or both kids are grumpy or unhappy for some reason, and I am grumpy (stressed, tired, preoccupied, hormonal) for some reason, and unfortunately this combination has occurred more than a few times during both lockdowns.
First of all, I try to not get too worked up about this happening, and I now somewhat expect it to happen at least once a week (and definitely at least once a month, if you catch my drift). This is already quite a significant mindset shift that has helped me greatly in the last year. But the biggest thing that helps me - and believe me when I say it's a work in progress - is when I can let go or move on from the hard days quickly.
That's arguably the hardest part about lockdown for anyone, am I right? There's just such little space and time to really "recover" or "re-set" when we feel overwhelmed or stressed or anxious. There's no pause button or off switch. I am rarely away from my children for more than a few hours and that's really not enough time to undo the knots in my shoulders, the tension in my jaw or the headaches I find myself getting at the end of the day.
As I say, learning how to let go of the bad days is not something I do without fail or hesitation. Some evenings, once my children are settled, it takes me a LONG time to relax and I am also prone to fall back on bad habits like doom-scrolling, spending too much time on social media, or simply stepping away from a screen.
A few things that do help me move on from a bad day, when I remember to do them, include going for a long walk or a run, stretching out doing some yin yoga, dancing out my stress to a song I love, and having a hot bath. I also do lots of deep-breathing and practice affirmation to help me let go of negative thoughts by literally breathing out heavily while saying "I let go of this stress" or "I free myself from these negative thoughts". As I say, it's remembering I have these weapons in my lockdown self-care toolkit that really is the hardest part!
P.S. If you are in lockdown with a baby, here are some tips to help you survive the crying baby stage.
Being Honest with my Kids About How I Feel
As stated above, being honest with myself is often the difference between a good and a bad day. Sometimes it's the difference between a bad day and a REALLY bad day! Either way, I will take any slight improvement I can get these days. It also therefore follows that if I am honest with my kids, I can also help them and myself have a better understanding of what's going on.
I'm not sure where we all subscribed to this idea that we have to present ourselves as perfect human beings to our children, but it's simply not true, nor is it helpful. I actually believe giving children access or exposure to a full range of emotions is very important for their development. While I will fully admit to not getting it right every time, I do believe the lesson for our kids is in how we handle our emotions, rather than whether we experience them or not.
Now, whenever I'm having a bad day or I feel my mood is lower than I would like, I tell my children. Or I have a conversation with their father in front of them whereby we talk about how to make the day easier for us all. Where appropriate, I try to explain why I'm feeling sad/tired/worried, and I do my best to also communicate to my kids when I'm feeling happy or excited too so that they don't think one "mood" is the norm.
If I'm honest, the main reason I am honest with my kids is so I can better manage their expectations. They now know that when Mummy is tired, she won't be as active or busy, and when my eldest asks me if we can make a Lego kit together or do something else that is a bit complicated or challenging when his younger brother is around, then I can say no and explain again that it's because I'm tired or not able to do that kind of activity. It's not always what he wants to hear, and of course, it's not always what I want to say, but I have to be honest, and I hope he learns from that.
I also hope that my boys will follow my example and be comfortable to share how they are feeling with me on both good and bad days.
Doing Self-Care Together
As I mention in the introduction, I am no longer "hiding away" the ways I look after myself. It's important that my kids know what I need and like to do to feel good. Of course, this doesn't change the fact that doing self-care with kids - especially young children - is not easy to do!
In fact, I'm going to be very honest and say that 80% of me is of the opinion that "self-care" with children around isn't ever going to be as "cup-filling" as self-care done alone or when my kids are asleep. But, when I spend 12 hours of my day with them on most days during lockdown, I have to be creative! Sometimes, simply trying to do things for myself, even with my children, is akin to sending my brain the message that my well-being matters and needs to be in my list of top priorities and that really does matter!
I will write a bit more about doing self-care with kids soon, but for now the things that we all can do together with some success - but of course, not every single time - include yoga videos on YouTube, having a bath or shower all together, lying down and doing deep breathing together when one of us gets stressed, making cookies (we love simple recipes like mashing up bananas with oats), watching a movie together under a blanket and maybe with some popcorn, and doing gentle crafts like painting or drawing together. Do not underestimate how good painting may make you feel even if you are doing it next to a kid splashing paint all over the table. Sometimes just five minutes of mixing colours and seeing what I can create with a few brush strokes is really soothing for me.
And when I have found things extra hard, I have also been known to give them both a tablet each, pick them up and bring them up into bed with me so I can lie still and close my eyes, if I need to.
As with all aspects of parenting, it's very important that I manage my expectations when it comes to doing self-care with my children. While I may want or need to do certain things (or simply just lie down in a dark room) for many hours, this is not possible with young kids. But five minutes of listening to a song that makes us dance? Ten minutes of deep-breathing? Or fifteen minutes of stretching or moving our bodies to release tension? Yes, these are often possible.
The most important thing, I have found, is that I frame these activities as "self-care" for myself. Or if I specifically tell myself through affirmation or by simply talking to my kids that we are doing nice things for ourselves because we deserve it, this helps send a message to my brain that I am trying to look after myself which is often a message that will go against the negative thoughts I am otherwise spinning around my mind.
Yet again, it's not going to make all my worries and stresses during lockdown disappear, but it may just make the day a little lighter or it may just get me through to bedtime without piling more and more stress on my shoulders.
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Frances M. Thompson
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