Feeling burned out but also guilty about taking time for yourself? We’ve all been there. But part of parenting in the pandemic is knowing how to take care of yourself so you can take care of your family well.
In this article, you’ll read:
- Parenting in the pandemic: feeling guilty for spending time on self-care
- Expert-approved tips on balancing family, work and personal life
We have heard it again and again. Taking care of your own health, physical and mental is important as a parent. You cannot expect yourself to be on top of your parenting game when your own needs are not being met.
But even under the most favorable conditions, most parents still find it hard to put their needs above their families’ demands. Let alone in the pandemic. There is the constant struggle of feeling burnt out as a caregiver and a provider, and feeling guilty for thinking of yourself.
Parenting in the pandemic: finding time for self-care is hard
“The biggest barrier as a parent of a young baby would be the inability to be as free and flexible with my schedule as I was before,” said Ms Yi Wen, a civil servant and a mum who gave birth at the start of the pandemic.
“You need to plan around your baby’s schedule, and you do have to sacrifice some social activities like hanging out late at night with friends because of baby’s bedtime,” she added.
Dr Mary Chong is a professor at Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore and a member of the advisory panel on Parenting on Families for Life (FFL), an initiative by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
Based on her interactions with other parents, she found that one of the biggest challenges that they faced during the pandemic is finding time to balance their careers with their family and personal life. Most of the time, the parent’s time for her personal interests and relationships is the first one to be sacrificed.
However, Dr Chong pointed out that this habit can be detrimental for the parent and the whole family in the long run.
“It is often tempting to give up on one’s personal time when faced with multiple and seemingly, endless jobs on the work and family front to complete.
However, this can be dangerous as cumulative neglect on self-care can be detrimental to one’s mental and physical well-being.
Remember that us parents are key pillars of family support at home, and children, elderly grandparents do depend on us to keep things going.
Thus, this makes it even more important for parents to carve out time to maintain their own mental and physical health.” she said.
Getting the other family members on board
To achieve this, Dr Chong advises enlisting the support of other family members – your spouse, children, and sometimes even abled grandparents. Not only will this lighten your load, it can also help your children acquire some skills that will be valuable to their growth.
“Shouldering household responsibilities and supervision of children together with your spouse can help foster closer relationships, and empower your children to help around the house or with mealtimes.
It also cultivates life skills and independence,” she said.
As a new mum without a nanny, Yi Wen and her husband rely on infant care services to look after their child when they are at work. However, it gets tougher when the child is sick. During these times, her husband willingly shares the childcare duties with her, and sometimes they also get their baby’s grandparents on board.
“Each time (the baby)is sick, his symptoms last for a week or more! It is very tough juggling baby care and work.
My husband and I end up taking turns to be ‘off work’ to care for the baby, and we also call on our parents to step in to help (‘many helping hands’ approach). Collectively, we get by,” she shared.
Image courtesy: istockphoto
Similarly, Chan Lan Foong, a banker, mum of two boys and a volunteer at FFL is very grateful to her own mother for looking after her children when she’s at work.
“I have relatively long and tiring working hours, and my children are still young. Nevertheless, I am fortunate to have the help of my mother.
She quit her job to take care of my children so that I can focus on my career and do not have to worry about fetching my children late from a childcare or after-school care centre,” she said.
Having a support system with parents or in-laws can also help to alleviate some of the parenting stresses while providing opportunities for the children to bond with their grandparents.
How to balance family, career and self-care
Balancing parenting and professional life is not totally new to parents. However, the addition of home-based learning and adhering to new health protocols (which includes working from home) may have caught many off-guard.
Apart from getting other able family members on board of taking care of the children and getting tasks done at home, Dr Chong gave the following tips to help parents achieve balance in their family, work and personal life:
Working from home provides the flexibility of working hours. Using this to your advantage can help manage your work tasks, house chores and children’s needs effectively.
For instance, if your job starts at 9:00 AM, you can wake up at 6:00 so you can prepare and get sorted before the kids wake up. It may also mean working a bit more after the children are in bed to make up for time spent on children or household chores in the day.
You can also take a few minutes from your lunch break to coach your children in online learning.
Quality time work over quantity
Ensure that you spend quality time on work rather than only focusing on amount of time spent. Try to be more efficient in doing things (regarding work and at home) so you won’t waste time troubleshooting and solving unnecessary problems.
Ironically, when faced with tight schedules, people learn to work more effectively, making every hour spend on work count, and still able to produce quality work.
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Coming up with a schedule or timetable for the members of the family.
Dr Chong found that planning a schedule for and with her children was helpful in setting expectations and managing boundaries of work and personal space and time. Create a home timetable for your kids and allocate time for personal play and leisure, physical activity (exercise), family time and even time to help out with household chores.
Make sure that your child’s school schedule and your work schedule are also laid out properly so your kids would know what to expect during the day.
“Additionally, I find it useful to have designated time slots through the day for parents to ‘check-in’ on their children and for children to use that time to seek help from parents.
This teaches children to respect their parents’ work (and meetings) and personal time and not expect their parents to be at their constant beck and call,” shared Dr. Chong.
Learn to let go of perfection.
It is also important for parents, especially mums to let go and not expect the same level of standards as before, or the ones they set for themselves.
“Couples should identify what is most important to them during this season in life (raising young kids), and recognise that they will have to make trade-offs within the constraints of their time, energy and money,” shared mum Yi Wen.
If you constantly feel that you’re not doing enough for others, you will never get over the guilt of taking time for yourself. So go easy on yourself, mum. Do not beat yourself up if you are not ticking all the boxes (successful career, immaculate house, getting your pre-baby body back, etc).
“The house may not be as clean, the food prepared may not be the same quality, the homework or revision done by your children independently may not be as perfect, but at least, the entire family can emerge proudly from this period, knowing that everyone has learnt and achieved so much more as a team.” said Dr Chong.
Parenting in the pandemic can be really hard. Losing yourself in the commotion of it all happens, but it’s important to remember that self-care is a necessity. You need to look after yourself so you can be effective and efficient at looking after your loved ones.
Don’t be ashamed to reach out for help.
If you are having trouble balancing your career, childcare and your personal life, or you have other issues about parenting in the pandemic, do not hesitate to ask for help.
Parents may turn to FAMILY365, which is a suite of Family Life Education (FLE) programmes. They have programmes such as Positive Parenting Programme (Triple P) and Signposts that equip parents with tips and advice on managing relationships and effective parent-child communication.
The Community Psychology Hub Online Counselling (CPH OC) is a joint initiative by the MSF and CPH that aims to support families and couples seeking help on marital or parenting issues.
CPH OC is offered as a free service and allows families to speak anonymously to a counsellor over live chat or email. Individuals may visit their website to find out more.