What does parental self-care look like? 50 ideas for caring for yourself as a parent

Have you seen our post about why parental self-care is important? If not, check it out here. This week we highlight practical ways that parents can integrate self-care into their daily routines.

Parents have a lot of demands on their time, energy, and attention. Unfortunately, this means that parents’ own needs are often neglected. When parents stop caring for themselves, stress can take over resulting in potentially negative repercussions on parents’ health and relationships with children (and partners).

Beating stress and caring for your self may feel like just another thing on a mile-long “to-do” list, but it doesn’t have to be a big time commitment. And self-care should not be negotiable! Start by adding 5 minutes of self-care to your day and build up to where you feel less stressed and more balanced.

Self-care typically falls into three categories: care for your body, care for your mind, and care for your emotions and relationships. Self-care can be relatively simple like getting enough sleep or taking time to cuddle a pet or hug a loved one. Here are 50 ideas (many from our informal survey of parents) of how you can incorporate self-care into your life.

Care for your Body

1. Eat and drink (regularly and healthily)

  • Stock the fridge with easy to grab, healthy snacks like string cheese, pre-cut veggies, and fruit.
  • “Drink water not soda” – Mom of 2

2. Give yourself permission to keep meals simple

  • Order pizza or make PBJs for supper so you’ll have a little free time

3. Enjoy a special treat, such as a fancy coffee, an occasional dessert, or a favorite meal

4. Sleep (ideally for 8 hours)

  • “Go to bed around the same time and get 8 hours per night.” – Mom of 2
  • Use a calming scent in your room (e.g., candle)

5. Exercise

  • “Do something physically active every day – with the family when possible.” – Mom of 2
  • Play wrestle with your teens
  • Go dancing, ice skating, biking, or rollerblading
  • “For me, working out in the mornings gets the stresses of the previous day out, having a goal of sleeping for 6 hours every night, and drinking water throughout the day.” – Dad of 2

6. Take a hot shower or long bath

  • “My “me time” is an (at least weekly) bubble bath with a book and some wine. It probably seems silly but it is very relaxing and helps me as I am a very high-strung individual most of the time.” – Mom of 1

7. Schedule and attend your preventive care medical appointments

8. Ask your teen or partner for a short shoulder or foot massage

9. Set aside some romantic time with your partner

10. Splurge on a manicure or pedicure

11. Stretch in the morning when you wake up

12. Give and get hugs and kisses everyday – from your spouse and even from your teens

13. Join a recreational sports team (e.g. softball, volleyball, soccer)

14. Brush and style your children’s hair and have them style your hair

Care for your Emotions and Relationships

15. Spend time with friends

  • Invite adult friends over for a spontaneous get-together

16. Participate in a group activity that you enjoy

  • “I sing in a professional choir that has weekly evening rehearsals. This is my “recharge/keep my sanity” time. For me, this is what I do instead of going to the gym. I get 3-4 hours to myself every week to make music with my friends.” – Mom of 2

17. Laugh and find things that make you laugh

  • Cat videos?
  • Read jokes online

18 .Play a game alone (i.e., solitaire) or with friends or family

19. Stay in touch with friends and family who live far away

  • Set up a weekly call with one of your friends and chat for 15 minutes while you wait in the car or take a walk or make dinner
  • Text or email your friends

20. Attend a local place of worship

21. Spend time outdoors

22. Briefly relax in a spot of sunshine

23. Allow yourself to cry

24. Take 5 minutes of your lunch break to meditate

25. Reframe frustrating situations to give others the benefit of the doubt

26. Do something that makes you happy – buy flowers, add a new song to your playlist, garden

27. Play hooky from household chores for one day – save the laundry, don’t do the dishes (and if you are worried this will just add stress tomorrow, ask for help with the laundry and use paper plates)

28. Ask for help – no one can do it all alone. Let your partner, children, friends, or family know that you need some extra support, such as someone else to wash the car or cook dinner or sit an talk with you over a cup of tea.

29. See a movie

30. Take a get-away trip with friends or your spouse – without kids

31. Spend time with your own mom, dad, siblings if they are close enough

32. Make something (paint, do crafts, sew, knit, make jewelry, build something, do woodworking)

33. If you have multiple children, spend time alone with one child engaging in something that only the two of you enjoy

Care for your Mind

34. Try to disconnect from work when not at work.

  • “Turn off my work cell phone at 5pm.” – Mom of 2

35. Spend time alone

  • “I get up early around 5am, and until 6:30 (often a little later) is my quiet time. I take the dog on a walk, make tea, eat breakfast, read or watch something on Netflix. It’s my alone time. I’m much more grounded if I do this instead of sleeping until the kids wake me up.” – Mom of 2
  • “I get up at about 5:30am and have 20 minutes of me time prior to at least one kid waking up. Either try to exercise or just relax depending on the day.” – Mom of 2

36. Help your children create digital or written to-do lists so that you don’t need to nag them in the mornings or before events

37. Plan and prepare ahead

  • “I have everything for the next day ready the night before. Bags packed, clothes laid out, lunch made or lunch money in backpack, shoes and coat at the door. You get the idea. This was my self-care because it avoided so many morning conflicts. I think the best thing I can say on the subject is trying to keep a basic routine that helps you as much as it helps your child.” – Mom of 1

38. Listen to audio books or podcasts as you drive

39. Go to a play or concert

40. Listen to live music or sing along to the radio when you drive

41. Read a book or magazine for 15-30 minutes in the evening or morning

42. Join a book club

43. Go to the public library and browse the shelves

44. Write in some other way – mail a letter once a week to someone special

45. Learn something by watching a documentary or taking a community education class

46. Volunteer for something not connected to your children, like the local food bank, a community garden, or the Humane Society

47. Spend time enjoying your pets

48. Garden

49. Go a coffee shop

50. Keep a journal

  • Try writing just a sentence per night
  • Write down one thing you are grateful for each day

Practicing self-care, especially if it hasn’t been a regular part of your life, takes intentionality and support. Set yourself up for success by asking other adults to support and help you. Give yourself permission to skip the occasional sporting event or ask your partner to supervise homework so that you can go to a class or take a walk. Intentionally build self-care into your day; when you wake up decide what you’ll do that day to care for your self. The anticipation of self-care should be fun and not another chore. Planning for self-care can help make it happen in a way that reduces stress and rather than adding to it.

No single self-care idea will work to eliminate all your parenting and life stress, but combining several practices will help decrease your stress, improve your parenting, and make your daily life more satisfying.


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Article by Anne Clarkson

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).