Parenting young kids is often physically exhausting: you’re not getting enough sleep, they’re following you to the bathroom; you’re carrying him on your hip and pushing her in the stroller. Self-care often means carving out a few minutes alone, getting a mother’s helper, and maybe the occasional date night. When I was a full-time stay at home mom to my three small children, the height of my self-care could literally mean a 5-minute shower alone.
As my kids grew into teens and young adults, finding time alone and scheduling date nights was easy. They were definitely not following me to the bathroom or hanging on my leg. At first it seemed amazing, a windfall-all of the 5-minute showers I want. But oh boy, I soon realized that the demands on myself and my soul were still there, just coming in a different package.
Now the stress looks like waiting up to hear him get home from his part-time job or her date with that guy I barely know, or worse yet from who knows where they are even though they said they were going to the movies. It looks like the sudden realization that in 2 or 4 or 6 years they will not live under my roof and will they know how to take care of themselves and will the world be kind to them and uggh, how will I live without them in my day-to-day world?
As I grew into being the parent of a big kid, I realized it was time to think differently about my self-care.
Self-Care for Moms with Teens
1. Have your own life.
Find and keep interests and enjoyments that do not involve your child or your role as a parent. This makes life more fun, puts less stress on your teen, and helps ease you into the future as parenting begins to have a less starring role in your life. For me this meant putting more time into my writing, picking up some neglected hobbies, and, as a couple, my husband and I started taking dance classes.
2. Don’t take every eye roll and slight personally.
Try to let the majority of the small stuff go, as part of the inevitable ups and downs of parenting life. At the same time, don’t give them a free pass to be mean or rude. Lisa Damour, Ph.D. psychologist and bestselling parenting author suggests a simple, “hey that hurts,” or “that’s rude and unacceptable,” to remind your teen that you are a person with feelings. It’s a dance between calling them on it and at the same time, toughening up so you are not bruised by every snarky comment.
As Dr. Damour says, “they’re separating from you and they don’t always do it in the kindest ways.”
3. Mindfulness can really help.
In case you’re not clear, mindfulness does not equal meditation (although meditation practice can be immensely helpful). The mindfulness I recommend involves learning (practicing) being less reactive to your own thoughts and not so tangled up in responding to your teen’s behavior.
Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap calls it getting “unhooked,” or detaching from unhelpful thoughts like “If only I were a better parent, he would ______.”
4. Be intentional.
What kind of parent do you want to be to your older teens and adult children if you find that your intent does not match your behavior (or your teen’s perception of your behavior), you can get to work on lining up your intention with your real life behavior.
For me, this meant realizing that while I meant to respect my daughter’s growing independence, when I stepped in too often to offer ‘advice’ or do things for her, I sent the message that I did not have confidence in her. Stepping back and letting her know, “You can handle this,” allowed me to LIVE my intention to support her in developing competence.
5. Break out of the box your teen/young adult may put you in (or you put yourself in).
Sometimes teens see a very simplified version of us: “Dad’s only hobby is driving me around,” or “Mom only cares about getting good grades,” “Mom always…,” “Dad never…” Break out of the box. They may mock you or join you or cheer you on. It doesn’t matter- it’s good for you, and great for them.
You can connect to your teen in deeper ways by changing and growing alongside them. Dad doesn’t share his feelings too much turns into “Dad really understands my experience with anxiety; he told me about his own struggles with anxiety.” Mom only cares about grades turns into “Mom wants me to work hard and be successful, and we’ve been having these great conversations about what a successful life looks like, and what I want for myself.”
6. Try to view your failures and your child’s failures as opportunities to learn and grow.
Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure, describes how parents can get tangled up in our growing up/grown up kids “success” or “failure.” Says Lahey,
Parents, after all, are judged by their children’s accomplishments rather than their happiness, so when our children fail, we appropriate those failures as our own.
The self-care part is redefining the failure as a growth edge rather than a catastrophe. Yes, this is easier when the failures are small.
7. Do the tangible self-care, the things that make you feel better short term and long term.
The demands of parenting, at any age, can separate you from your own needs and wants. Connect, or re-connect, to the things that relax you and rejuvenate you, and do these things regularly: yoga, walks in the woods, playing with the dog (these are all mine).
8. Accept the messy roller coaster nature of the whole parenting/love/family/life thing.
Pema Chodron, author of When Things Fall Apart, says it well,
We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.
She’s not specifically talking about parenting but it definitely fits- the falling apart, the coming together, the leaving room for all of the feelings and experiences.
As a parent to three young adults, I strive to live these self-care tips. Of course you love your kids wildly, but throw some of that love your own way too.