A Self Care Guide for Unschooling Parents
Most of us understand the term ‘self-care’. Mental health awareness has been on the increase and frequently at the front of discussions in recent years. There is advice freely available, but for many of us, especially those who unschool, the idea of self-care is unrealistic and inaccessible, in its prescribed form.
The unschooling life, especially with young children, under 7 years old, is unpredictable. And even beyond this age, you are ever present for our children’s needs, physical, emotional, practical, and educational. You lead lives that are sticky fingered, turn your back for a minute if you dare, sleep deprived, snack food filled, shower sharing, foot in your face co-sleeping, constantly touched, never pee alone, toys everywhere, chaos.
Scheduling time to yourself is probably impossible. Relying on that bath alone/ quiet glass of wine/ spa day with friends is unrealistic. Many of the expectations even surrounding self-care are faulty. We have been misled, and then you are blamed for not creating space for ourselves in the standardised format. We carry huge cultural expectations and put enormous pressures on ourselves to reach ideas of perfection: perfect mother, perfect unschooling parent, perfect housewife. It’s time to unpick these ideas and look at an alternative.
Consider your needs
Traditional self-care advice separates our care needs into different areas. Categories include physical, emotional, spiritual, cognitive, environmental, relational, financial, and aptitude. It may be worth taking stock of how you feel about these different dimensions, how they impact your life, and if/how you can make any necessary changes that could have a positive impact on you.
However, I would like to focus us on self-compassion.
Which is a bit of a cheat really because it incorporates all the above categories.
Being kind to yourself.
Extending grace to yourself.
Talking to yourself as you would a friend.
Being gentle with yourself.
Be honest with yourself.
We have been led to believe that we should be able to manage motherhood and family, alone. We have been led to believe that we should be able to attain and maintain high standards of care, household management, and work effortlessly. We have been misled. We are designed to, and work best within, nurturing communities. Friendships that sit on the floors of our home because the sofa is covered in laundry, surrounded by toys and messy children, who are so familiar with our kitchens that they can make themselves a drink if they need to. Relationships that can weather the deeps of our imperfection and embrace our authenticity.
But it is the key to enabling you to care for yourself, not supress or hide your needs. You must first recognise your own needs and value them so that you can raise them into the domain of your family life, alongside everyone else’s.
Create space for you
As parents, you spend a lot of time meeting the needs of your children, as it should be. Every time a new child joins our family, I have time to meet their needs. I work out how we can meet the needs of all our children. At no point do I say, ‘I haven’t got time for one child or another’. Imagine then, if you will, doing the same for yourself. Not a grand gesture of hours alone, but a simple gesture of a need met. Changing our perception of self-care being about putting your needs first (or often last) in a hierarchy of needs within the home, but establishing a culture whereby self-care means, me too. Ditching the notion of planning alone time as the only way to meet your self-care needs and creating space within your home and daily life that supports you.
It is more impactful to move towards a model of self-care and emotional wellbeing that creates a family environment in which everyone is nurtured. Implementing small practices that serve you alongside meeting the needs of other’s in your home.
For example, I have favourite mugs for my tea, favourite mugs that I use first thing in the morning, favourite mugs that hold a specific type of tea, favourite mugs that I use at different times of the day, or places, or depending on how I’m feeling. It is a complex and personalised system, but one that makes me happy. Small moments of happy. Small differences made in your life, small acts of care that say ‘I notice you,’ ‘you are important,’ ‘you are loved.’ Small ways in which you care for yourself, ways that you have identified for yourself. These are the things that can have a big impact.
Now, we recognise that we are not children, and as the adult will often put ourselves to one side in favour of prioritising our children, but this should not be to the detriment of ourselves entirely. We all know that mother’s of small children are sleep deprived, but what if we took that and imagined what 1% of what we need looks like and how can we achieve that? Instead of ignoring it altogether, you bring you back into the equation and begin to make things possible, begin to consider what meeting your needs might look like.
- Can you imagine that taking a shower may mean washing your face only?
- Can you take ten deep breathes instead of a 15 minute meditation?
- Can you separate out a portion of chilli and add a pinch more spice for yourself?
- Can you invest in your own ear plugs to wear in high noise environments?
Moving away from a prescribed model of what you need takes time. Listening to yourself and trusting that you know what you need means tuning into you what your body, mind, and soul are calling you to. The mainstream narrative where by one size fits all does not take into account your unique self or circumstances. That’s not to say that you should ignore it completely or not read it, but consider it as information, not a prescription.
As you begin to listen to yourself and moving away from a model prescribed to us by outside voices and cultural expectations, you move into a space that echoes what you are creating for your children. A space whereby we listen to our own selves, our own bodies, and respond to what they need in each moment. Remembering that we matter too.
Meeting your needs is a journey of unschooling yourself. Living in alignment with the principles that your children live by and that you facilitate in their lives. Instead of being jealous that they get to “do what they want” all the time, setting out to question what you spend your time on and why. When you see my children self-motivated to unload the dishwasher or persevere at a difficult task, asking yourself what your motivation is in similar situations and changing your perspective or the task accordingly.
Not only does this result in your genuine needs being identified and met, it also means that your life is in alignment with your children’s life. That you create family cohesion. That you are all living by the same principles and in tune with each other.
Genuine self care is about discovering yourself, and what you really need. What really brings you joy and peace? What genuinely makes you feel good on a day-to-day basis? What do you need now, in this moment, to make it better?