Winning the Rat Race: Why is parental self-care important?

Just because Labor Day Weekend has come to a close doesn’t mean finding time to relax should be any less important for parents (especially with school kicking into high gear!) For the next two weeks, Parenthetical will highlight articles promoting the benefits of parental self-care. Continue reading this week’s post for more information…you deserve it!

The life of a parent is hectic. Not only are you caring for yourself but you are also responsible for the changing needs (and demands) of your teenage children. Their expanding schedule of activities can be overwhelming to keep up with even as their emotional needs become more complicated. In addition to parenting, you also have to juggle commitments to work, other family members, and outside projects. Finding time for your self while giving so much to others can feel impossible! Parents often report feeling guilty for taking time away from these many commitments (aka the rat race) to practice self-care, but caring for your self is essential. By neglecting your own needs, you can strain your mind, body, and relationships.


The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2014 survey shows that parents who have a child under 18 at home report having higher stress levels than other adults. Research has also shown that the adolescent years are actually more stressful for parents than they are for teens. Parenting adults spend a large portion of their life caring for others; parenting stress is not a short-term situation. Thus, neglecting your own needs to constantly care for others can mean 18 years of chronic – ongoing – stress.


Here’s the bad news. Chronic stress can make you feel overwhelmed and exhausted in the moment, but it is also associated with increased risk of long-term health problems, such as anxiety, heart disease, insomnia, and weight gain. Stress can also impact your parenting. For instance, feeling stressed and not practicing self-care can make parents less sensitive, patient, and responsive to their children. According to the APA Stress in America 2014 survey, nearly half of parents say they lost patience with their children in the past month when they were feeling stressed. Allowing your self to be chronically stressed and not caring for your self also sends a message to children that high stress levels and poor self-care are “normal” for adults.


There is a bright side to this story! Even though stress is unavoidable, it can be managed! Parents can care for themselves and simultaneously model for children that self-care is important. This doesn’t necessarily mean self-care is a weekly trip to the spa or lavish vacations. Rather, self-care involves building healthy and rejuvenating physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual practices into daily life. For some this may simply involve turning off all electronics an hour before bed. Others may find taking a walk with a friend or neighbor to be key for increasing well-being. You can’t stop being a parent, but you can incorporate small, daily practices that keep you sane and happy in the midst of the parenting whirlwind.


Check back next week for our list of 50 ideas for self-care.


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Article by Anne

Anne-Headshot-useAnne Clarkson received her doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies from UW-Madison and is currently the Digital Parenting Education Specialist with UW-Extension Family Living Programs. Over the past 10 years, she has worked as an educator in the fields of community health, parenting, family studies, and digital education. She and her husband are excited to be starting their own parenting journey this summer. Anne was a pretty easy teenager whose parents worried more about pushing her to try new experiences than about her rebellious behavior. When not talking about families and technology, Anne loves to cook, read, travel, play board games, and take long walks (ideally along beaches but typically along sidewalks)..