By Dr. Lindsay Malloy, Pandemic Parenting
Confessions of a Working Pandemic Parent: I Hate “Self-Care”
I’ll be honest – I hate the term “self-care.” If anyone suggests to me that I just need more self-care in my life, I can feel myself bristle. I scream internally…and I’m a psychologist.
I also am a mother to two young kids holding down a full-time job during a global pandemic. Like many of you, I am struggling to hold it all together
But, recently, I realized that my bristling at the term may be in part because I have too narrow a definition of what self-care is. I tend to think of bubble baths, spa days, and yoga. And those things are great but I honestly don’t feel like I can regularly fit them in right now (or ever?).
Here are 3 free ways that you can practice self-care (yoga mat: optional):
1. Self-care can be saying “no.”
Years ago, I remember hearing Oprah say, “Every time you say ‘yes’ to something, you say ‘no’ to something else.” It stuck with me.
Are there things that you can say “no” to at work? At home? With your kids? For example, research shows that women are more likely to be asked to do – and volunteer for – the more “thankless” tasks at work…the workplace chores that no one else wants to do and won’t really help them with promotion. Is this you? Can you let someone else pick up the slack for a while? Can you be more strategic with what you say “yes” to? Maybe others rely on you because you always say “yes,” and now might be a good time to try to change this pattern by putting your foot down.
2. Self-care can be asking for what you need.
Study after study shows that moms carry a hefty burden in what psychologists call “cognitive load.” In most heterosexual partnerships, anyway, moms are the “rememberers of all the things” or the “designated worriers.” That permission slip, doctor’s appointment, birthday present, coordination of holiday plans, Halloween costume…they tend to fall under mom’s purview by default. This can mean that moms are frequently distracted and have the “remembering of all the things” constantly swirling in the back of their minds, leading to interruptions to their day and trains of thought, as well as valuable time spent on this invisible and often thankless labor. When my husband cooks a delicious meal, for example, there is a tangible product that I can rave about and thank him for making. Most of the many tasks that I take care of fly under the radar and only get noticed if I forget to do them.
Sharing not only in completing the tasks themselves – but in the cognitive load of remembering and managing all the tasks – may be an effective way for you to practice self-care. If you have a partner, it might be time to have a conversation about how you can divide up the cognitive/emotional labor in your household.
3. Self-care can be lowering your expectations.
World renowned child psychiatrist, Dr. Bruce Perry, recently joined us for our Pandemic Parenting webinar on building resilience in kids. He challenged us to think about meeting children’s core needs during this pandemic – feeling loved and feeling safe. Focus on ways that you are helping your children feel loved and secure in your family so you can let go of the guilt related to more trivial things (I’m looking at you, screen time).
Remember: self-care is not selfish, and it’s not something that has to be time consuming or expensive. But it has everything to do with giving yourself a break – now more than ever.
Lindsay Malloy, Ph.D.
Dr. Lindsay Malloy is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Ontario Tech University, specializing in developmental and forensic psychology. She is the Director of the Development, Context, and Communication Lab and her research addresses how, why, and to whom children and teens disclose negative or traumatic experiences, as well as factors that influence children’s memory, deception, and narratives. She frequently provides expert testimony and consultation related to children’s communication about and memory of difficult events. Dr. Malloy is also a wife and mother of two young children trying to navigate all of the COVID-19 uncertainty with a little help from chocolate and Disney Plus. Learn more about Pandemic Parenting here.