Keys to parenting: take care of yourself

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Parenting requires a lot of energy and you may feel overwhelmed and exhausted. It can be hard to imagine finding time to take care of yourself when you are balancing so many other things. It is important to keep in mind that doing well starts with being well. You can learn to reduce your stress and nurture yourself.  Both you and your child will reap the benefits. You don’t have to be perfect. It is impossible to achieve because everyone has a different idea of perfection and we are all human. Try some of the following ideas to help keep your life in balance.

Share Your Feelings: Being a parent can be exciting and satisfying. It can also be lonely and confusing. You need support from at least one other person who understands. Choose someone who listens well, cares about you, and offers helpful suggestions. Your support can be a trusted friend or relative, a caring minister or other professional, or people in a parenting education class. If it is hard for you to get out of the house, a trained home visitor or other caregiver may be just what you need.

Enjoy Time of Your Own: Make the time to do what you like best. Enjoy a hobby, reading, or journal writing. Talking with a friend on the phone and walking in the great outdoors are also good ways to recharge your batteries. Search for a sitter or offer to exchange child-care with a neighbor, friend, or relative. For lists of caregivers, check with a resource and referral agency for child-care, churches or other faith communities or social service agencies. When you have found good child-care, enjoy some favorite activities, either with friends or by yourself.

Keep a Sense of Humor: Good-natured laughter relaxes the body and renews the spirit. Seeing the funny side of life does wonders for emotional and physical health. To give your funny bone a workout, read some jokes or enjoy fun-loving friends. Take in a humorous television or radio program. Most of all, have fun playing with your child. Children are experts at having a great time, especially when they know that you appreciate them!

Nourish Your Body: Enjoy eating healthy foods that appeal to you. Eating nutritious foods in moderate amounts helps you to be strong and energetic.  It is also a great example for your child. Your child’s nutritional needs may differ from yours, so talk to his or her healthcare provider about what he or she needs for good health.  f you are pregnant, visit your healthcare provider regularly and follow any dietary instructions you are given. Remember that women of childbearing age need 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. This reduces the chance of having a baby with a birth defect of the brain or spinal cord, such as spina bifida. Base your diet on whole grain bread, pasta, cereals, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Choose non-fat milk and milk products often.  Eat only small amounts of fats and sweets. Remember to drink lots of caffeine-free beverages, preferably water. You need at least six full glasses every day.  

Stay Away from Harmful Influences: According to studies, smoking or use of alcohol or drugs while you are pregnant may cause low birth weight, birth defects, and serious behavior and learning problems in your baby. Do not allow smoking around your baby, toddler, or even your young child because breathing secondhand smoke is dangerous to a young one’s health. Do your best to avoid other potentially harmful influences such as violence on television, including abusive behavior such as hitting, yelling or putting down another person. If you want to reduce harmful influences, seek help from a friend or professional you trust. It is never too late to make positive changes in your life.

Get Plenty of Sleep: How do you feel when you get a good night’s sleep? Most people feel calm, energetic and more cheerful. Getting enough sleep helps you to better solve problems and to handle your children when they are a challenge. If you are tired all the time it can make you short tempered, forgetful, clumsy, and prone to poor judgment. The peace and harmony that is so important for the well-being of your child will be damaged. With a new baby, night feedings are necessary. Parents are going to lose sleep. Taking a nap during your baby’s daytime sleeping hours or taking turns with another adult for the night feedings are ways to make up for lost sleep at night. If you are a working parent, daytime naps may not be an option. Plan for extra rest on the weekends. Ask a spouse or friend to give you some breaks. Do not be too hard on yourself; try not to feel guilty about taking time to rest away from your baby. Your child deserves the best care you can give and sometimes that means you first must regain your energy. Enjoy Physical Activity: Exercise is wonderful for your overall well-being and it does not necessarily need to be strenuous. For example, walking 20 to 30 minutes three or more times a week is a great way to exercise. Even brief periods of activity during the day, such as climbing stairs, dancing, playing catch, washing windows, gardening, or joining your toddler as he explores the out-of-doors, add up to healthy benefits. Put on some comfortable shoes and find a safe, pleasant place to walk, such as a local park. Invite a friend to go with you, if you like.When weather allows, why not take your child along? Try to set aside a half hour three times a week for your walks. Enjoy other physical activities as well.

Keep Your Adult Relationships Healthy: Little ones are quick to pick up on adult moods. If arguments and fights often take place in your home, your child is likely to feel disturbed, distrustful, even badly frightened. These feelings interfere with your child’s brain growth and cause learning and behavior problems. If you and your partner get along well, your child will develop a sense of trust and his or her brain will grow in healthy ways. Practice courtesy and kindness and learn to resolve conflicts peacefully. If you have conflicts in your household, resolve the problems that cause them. Your child needs to know that you can restore peace and happiness. Do not hesitate to seek help from trusted friends, family counselors, or organizations such as Parents Anonymous. 

Recognize and Manage Stress: Stress and tension increase when people are worried, going through big changes, or have too many demands on their time and energy. Babies and toddlers can sense stress and become anxious or upset, and too much anxiety can interfere with their brain development. Be on the lookout for signals that you are becoming tenser, such as a dull headache, feelings of hopelessness and discouragement, an urge to cry, an irritable reply, or muscle tightness in your stomach, neck or back. With practice, you can recognize the tension as soon as it starts to build and deal with it before it grows into a monster. What helps you stay calm, alert, and full of energy? Find ways to reduce nervousness and worry. Make your worry-reducers a regular part of your life.