Parenting is a highly challenging task for anyone to take on. Society believes that “good” parenting produces “good” children and parents. Mothers are expected to (or perhaps expect themselves to) be “intensive parents” who invest significant time, money, and energy into parenting, even to the extent of sacrificing their mental health for the sake of their children1.
Sacrifice portrays itself as noble. However, expecting yourself to do so and placing your child above your needs continuously does a disservice to you and your child.
Negative effects on parents
In Meeussen and Laar’s study1 on mothers, pressure to be a perfect mother can lead to adverse reactions such as:
Avoiding mistakes and failures by paying more attention to what can go wrong and how these can be prevented (instead of paying attention to potential successes and how to attain such achievements).
Restricting their partner’s involvement in household and childcare duties as they feel judged for the quality of childcare in their family.
These reactions can make mothers more vulnerable to parental burnout, which is the emotional exhaustion of parents, emotional distancing from their children, and reduced feelings of parental accomplishment and efficacy.
Negative effects on children
Parental burnout isn’t just bad for parents; it’s terrible for children too. Parenting stress can contribute to child behaviour problems2, while parental burnout is related to neglectful and violent behaviour towards one’s children. To top it all off, the more parents feel pressured to be perfect parents, the more children tend to have depressive symptoms and lower life satisfaction.3
Have you ever noticed that being around someone in a bad mood seems to make our attitude go sour too? Like us, children are susceptible to emotional states and disposition. When parents are stressed, children can pick up on the tense atmosphere. However, while we can distance ourselves from others who bring our mood down, children cannot do so with their parents.
Older children, especially, can see the impact that exhaustion, tension, and crankiness bring to their family and worry about their parent’s well-being and stress. A study revealed that 14 and 15-year-olds were concerned about how their parents’ busy schedules affect their relationships3. Children want their parents to be less stressed and less tired. Wouldn’t you want the same for your parents?
How do I start “self-care”?
“Mummy, Daddy, don’t feel guilty about taking time for self-care.
Taking care of yourself is not the same as not taking care of me.”
Self-care helps you feel your best and be the best parent you can be. It is essential to set aside some time for self-care and explore what strategies work best for you. If you feel like you hardly have time for yourself, check out some ideas below – self-care doesn’t have to take a whole day (though you can certainly choose to do so)!4
Self-care ideas for when you have-
Box breathing. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds. Taking a short minute to do breathing exercises can help to calm you down.
Hug someone you love! Hugs are simple but powerful – they can reduce stress and boost our immunity.
Drink some water. Staying hydrated is important for our physical and mental health!
Listen to your favourite song. Music can do wonders for our mental state, including elevating our mood, increasing motivation and reducing stress.5
Sit in the sun (don’t forget your sunblock)! Sunlight is a natural mood booster and helps us sleep better at night.6
Do some light cleaning. A cleaner home can improve your mood and help you focus. Cleaning can also give you a sense of control and accomplishment!7
It helps to clear your mind – a tiny reset button for when you’re stressed or feeling overwhelmed! There are plenty of free resources online if you need help getting started.
Journaling is multi-purpose – it can be a space for you to keep track of your goals and achievements, record things you are thankful for, or even release negative thoughts on those stressful days.
Take a power nap. Napping for 15 to 20 minutes gives you a burst of alertness, increases cognitive functioning, and reduces stress. It’s a suitable replacement for coffee in the afternoon.8
Do some light exercise. Take a walk and smell the roses! Doing chores is an excellent way to get your heart rate up while doing something productive. You can also take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Read a book. Sometimes, scrolling social media or reading the news can stress us out. Engage your mind with a good book instead when you have some downtime!
Pamper yourself. Take a bath (soak it all in!), do your nails, go for a much-needed massage, or catch up on some shows!
Spend time with a friend. It feels good to be socially connected. Social support enhances mental health.9
Try out a new recipe! You might find a new favourite for yourself or your family! Bake something delicious, or try new ways to make a healthy meal.
For most of us, it’s probably been a while since we made travel plans, but if you’ve ever been on a plane before, you’d remember this sentence: “If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your oxygen mask first, and then help the other person.” This quote is essential advice not just for plane emergencies but also for everyday parenting.
Remember: Self-care is a gift all around. A positive mood does good for your child, and doing self-care sets an excellent example of leading a healthy lifestyle for your children. Not only will they learn how to manage their stress and grow to be more resilient, but you will also be a happier, better parent.9
Written by: Helene Tan, Programme Executive, Fei Yue Community Services
2Neece, C. L., Green, S. A., & Baker, B. L. (2012). Parenting stress and child behavior problems: A transactional relationship across time. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 117(1), 48-66. https://doi.org/10.1352/1944-7558-117.1.48