Self-Care For The Solo Parent

by Amanda McDonough
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“Self-care” is such a buzz word right now. When I first started treatment for my postpartum depression and anxiety, my therapist would always ask what I did for “self-care” or what my “self-care routine” was. At first, I really thought she was asking me about my hygiene…which isn’t really a ridiculous thought considering one huge battle with my depression is mustering up the energy to get out of bed and take a shower (sounds awful, but if you’ve felt this way before, you know exactly what I’m talking about). I had no idea that self-care had more to do with the little things you do just for yourself than it did with hygiene.

The hard part about making sure I include self-care in my daily routine, is that I am a solo parent most of the time. I will not say I am a “single mom” because I am not, but when my husband is deployed for the better part of a year, I am definitely doing it alone. We are far from home (across the country to be exact) so I lack the physical support from my family as well. Being a solo parent means self-care might look a little bit different for me.

Setting a strict bedtime for my child is a MUST.

I sometimes struggle, as a working mom, with the guilt of putting my kid to bed early since I haven’t gotten to spend a ton of time with him all day. Not having my other half around to tag team the nighttime routine means it is all left on me. Not only is a strict bedtime better for my cranky (soon-to-be) two-year-old, but it gives me the routine and time I need to do something for myself.

Knowing that my son will be in bed by 7:30pm each night means I can count on that hour and a half each night (after doing all the tedious chores like dishes, laundry, etc.) spent on self-care, such as popping some popcorn and binge-watching SVU on Netflix, laying in a hot bath with that new bath bomb I bought off Facebook, or something as simple as painting my toes. When I start to feel overwhelmed and stressed during the day, I remind myself that I will get my “me time” tonight.

What needs to be done right now, and what can wait.

I had been explaining to my therapist that I felt the constant need to keep a spotless home because that is “what a good mom does” (in my mind). She asked me, “Are you expecting Martha Stewart over for dinner?” I laughed, but she was right. Who was I trying to impress?

No, my home is never a filthy mess, but I would get a lot of anxiety when there’s an overflowing laundry basket or shoes strewn across the living room. We decided to list the things that needed to be done right now, and things that could be put off until later (or never – because really, the bathroom doesn’t actually have to be painted turquoise just because you pinned it on Pinterest). Things like washing the dishes after dinner…would it matter if I did it the next morning? Probably not. Do we need clean clothes tomorrow morning? Of course. Prioritizing my To Do List is a huge part of self-care because feeling overwhelmed and like I am a bad mom for something so silly is just unnecessary.

It can be the little things that mean the most.

Since I do not have a steady babysitter or family and friends who I can ask to babysit, I have had to find self-care options that are quick and easy to fit into my schedule. Sometimes this means I stop on the way to work for my favorite drink from my favorite coffee shop or get my eyebrows waxed on the way home from work (because seriously…have you seen how different you look after getting those things cleaned up!?). Self-care doesn’t always mean elaborate nights out, massages, or weekend getaways. Self-care can mean you sit in the car outside of day care, listening to your favorite song for just an extra three minutes before walking in.

Celebrate your independence.

A huge part of what gets me down is feeling like I am never doing “enough” as a mom. Being a solo parent means I usually don’t have someone to remind me that I am doing a good job or to help me when I’m struggling so I end up NOT feeling like a failure. Part of my self-care routine now is looking at my day and thinking about ONE thing I did that proves I am a good mom. It can be the fact that I got to day care drop-off on time this morning, that I managed to cook a healthy meal for dinner, or that I made sure I spent extra time cuddling my son today. It sounds so silly, but sometimes you have to be your own cheerleader when you are alone!

Yes, my son comes first 100%, but I’ve learned that I am not giving him any less by shifting how I meet his needs. He will always be loved, fed, clothed, bathed, etc., but it may look different depending on my needs that day, because, as hard as it was to learn, I am important too. Putting my kid down for bedtime early so I can veg out on the couch after a rough day is much better for him (and me) than getting frustrated and snapping because he ripped his diaper off (again) and went running through the house right before bedtime. Self-care doesn’t have to be something elaborate or expensive, it can be quick, free, and easy once you know what your self care is and how you can fit it into your schedule.