How do parents take care of themselves (aka self-care for parents)?

Liz @ Kunik
May 1, 2019

We recently sat down with Parenting Coach Barb Desmarais. Barb has been helping parents since the late 80s, so it’s safe to say she’s seen it all.  We explored the critical role of self-care in parenting.

Kunik experts are always available to work with our members. For those who are already members, feel free to contact Barb on the platform for follow-up questions.

Kunik: Barb, we’re eager to learn more about self-care. Thank you for talking with us! Do you think you could you give us a little background on yourself? How did you first get into being a Parenting Coach?

Barb: Absolutely. I actually started working with parents in 1988, teaching and leading classes and giving talks for schools. While I was doing that, many people asked if I’d ever considered being a Life Coach. I call myself a Life-Parent Coach now. Can you realistically even separate the two?

Kunik: So you were certified as a Life Coach first and then became a Parent Coach?

Barb: Yes. Honestly, I see the two as so intertwined. Parenting is not just how we discipline our kids - it is how we live our lives. What we do every day is how our kids learn about the world. We better be sure that the way we live is what we want our kids to learn!

Kunik: No pressure! I imagine you’ve seen a lot of change in the field since you started?

Barb: When I started, Parent Coaches were just beginning to emerge. I think people are [now] starting to understand the value. It can be a hard sell. I often hear people say ‘people have been raising kids forever, isn’t this something I am just supposed to know how to do?’ And I do understand that, but we seek support and coaching in so many parts of our lives, why wouldn’t we want to make our family foundation as strong as we can?

Kunik: I wonder if it’s a lack of awareness or knowledge of what coaches can provide? We talk about ‘optimizing’ so much of our lives today - nutrition, exercise, work, our commute - everything down to the smallest detail, why wouldn’t we want to put some of that focus into our families?

Barb: Exactly. If you ask someone, ‘what are your main priorities?’ they will often say family. So why not invest in the health and happiness of that family? When I started coaching a lot of people came to me and said ‘my kids are out of control.’ But when I peeled back the layers, there was always something else going on - a relationship in trouble, work issues, something else that was not as strong as it could be. I see my role as helping parents build and sustain their family. It’s not easy, we all struggle with it, and it’s OK to ask for help.

Kunik: I’m already thinking of so many other topics I want to talk with you about. But let’s transition to the topic of day. When you say self-care, what are you really talking about?

Barb: Self-care can mean a lot of different things. Let’s start with the basics. Contrary to what most of us believe, I always tell parents that the order of relationships is you first, then your partner/spouse, then your children. Before anyone gets mad, this is not at the expense of your kids. If I say to people ‘describe the ideal parent’ they give all the right descriptive words. But the reality is that you cannot possibly be that person if you don’t take care of yourself.

Kunik: So what does taking care of yourself look like?

Barb: It means many things. It means making exercise, diet, friendships and hobbies a priority. Think about a time you got a babysitter and spent the day doing something that makes you happy. How do you look at your family when you greet them again? You’re happier, lighter, more patient. When we take time out for ourselves, we’re able to let go of things more easily.

Parenting is a very demanding job.  When you’re a working parent that gets compounded. You’ve got to make yourself a priority in order to do that job effectively.

If you feel like the life you had before is gone, that builds resentment. When you’re resentful, you lack patience and you lash out. Your family doesn’t deserve that and it’s not fair to them. If you want to be that parent you’re describing, you have to work at it. It takes time and practice.

Kunik: Unfortunately I think that probably resonates with a lot of us. So how do you recommend we prioritize? It can be easy to say, or easy to think about, but really hard to actually do.

Barb: I hear parents say all the time ‘OK, but I don’t have time.’ You’re busy, I know. But really, you’re not making the time. Get a pen actually physically write out all the things you need to do that day, the next day, that week - whatever. Now what can you eliminate or delegate? There is always something... It’s a question of making a choice. That’s the hard part and the only way it works.  

I’ll use myself as an example. When my kids were little I used to regularly go to this exercise class. They had childcare at the studio, that was a blessing. I knew no one, but slowly it started going from exercise to coffee after. Nineteen years later we’re still in a book club together. Do you think I  regret the dirty dishes I left in the sink everytime I went? Not for a minute.

Kunik: It makes complete sense when you say it, but it the moment it sometimes feels less obvious. Do you find that the dads you work with also struggle to prioritize themselves?

Barb: In all the years I’ve been coaching, I’ve never seen that. Men are already doing it. They play golf, tennis, go to the gym, whatever it is. There is still a societal norm where women assume that it’s OK for the dad to do it but not them. I have yet to have a couple where the man doesn’t support his wife taking more time for herself. But there is a mental bloc. It’s the mom being able to give herself permission. You suggest it, you encourage it but someone has to decide to do it for themselves.

Kunik: Aside from taking time do something for ourselves, what else can we do to try and practice self-care?

Barb: Boundaries are so important and so hard. Learn how and when to say ‘no.’ If someone asks you to do something that you really don’t want to or just can’t, you can and should say no. By all means, say ‘yes’ to the things that you care about. But don’t say yes to everything just because you think you should, that just builds resentment again. You’re going to disappoint people, they may even get mad, but their life will go on. You don’t even need to explain your answer. Get comfortable with that feeling and it’ll become easier.

Setting boundaries requires a lot of self-exploration. Hand in hand with boundaries are relationships. Look closely at the people you spend time with. Do you have people that  drain you? Get rid of those toxic relationships and focus on the ones that nurture you instead.

Kunik: Barb, this has been great, thank you so much for taking the time. Any last tips for our members?

Barb: Remember to prioritize the relationships that matter to you - the relationship with yourself, your partner, your kids. Take stock of what you enjoy doing, the last thing that really brought you joy, and focus on the one thing you can do today to get that feeling. Think micro. What is one 20 minute thing I can do today or in the next 48 hours that will bring me one step closer to feeling like me?

Liz  @ Kunik

Liz is mom to a baby boy and cofounder of Kunik.


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