Imagine this: You’ve finally logged off your work computer for the night, the kids are tucked in, and you’re just about to lay your head down to rest. All of a sudden, a flurry of thoughts starts rushing into your mind. Thoughts like, “Did the kids finish their homework?” or “Did I complete the slides for my work presentation tomorrow?” and everything in between.
Being a working parent can feel like a balancing act, always juggling multiple responsibilities and hoping we don’t forget anything. From work meetings to helping children with their homework assignments, the compounding roles of working parents can often feel like they are in competition with one another and can leave working parents feeling tired and burned out.
Oftentimes, we place demanding and unrealistic expectations on ourselves as working parents. We may feel the need to be superhuman; to be the perfect parent AND the perfect employee. Or we may believe that by working, we are prioritizing our own needs over the needs of our family. These myths and far-reaching ideals can lead to feelings of shame and doubt.
Protecting and prioritizing mental health as a working parent is foundational to creating a safe and calm environment for yourself and your family as you navigate life’s opportunities and challenges.
Here are three tips to help support you in caring for your mental health as a working parent.
How to Safeguard Mental Health as a Working Parent
1. Adjust your standards and expectations
You might have thoughts such as “I’m being too selfish” or “I’ll never be able to be a good parent and a good employee.” These self-critical statements can lead to feelings of shame and prevent us from being our most authentic selves across our different roles. Normalizing the challenges of working parents, especially as the pandemic has blurred the lines between working and parenting, can help to reduce the high expectations we place on ourselves and allow us to practice self-compassion.
Lead your life not by asking yourself what type of working parent you should be, but by asking what type of working parent you would like to be. Prioritize your own values and not the values imposed on you by society. Recognize that there is no such thing as the “perfect working parent.”
2. Practice Mindful Check-Ins
Take opportunities to check in with yourself throughout the day. Incorporating a quick body scan practice can promote taking intentional breaks and mitigate potential stress by bringing us back to the present.
I like to recommend the STOP method as a useful and quick way to check in:
- S: Stop. Take a moment to pause what you are doing.
- T: Take a few deep, yet gentle breaths. This can recenter you and increase self-regulation.
- O: Observe your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. What kinds of thoughts are coming up for you? What are you feeling? Can you take notice of your five senses?
- P: Proceed with intention. What did this check-in provide for you? Did it signal a return to what you were doing before, or did it encourage you to consider taking a break?
Use the STOP method throughout the day, such as before work, between meetings, when picking up the kids, or when lying down to rest. Mindful check-ins can enhance your awareness and help to increase productivity, promote healthy boundaries, and encourage a consistent self-care practice.
3. Ask for specific help
Some days when you’re struggling to juggle all the balls in the air, you’ll need to throw one of the balls to a teammate—and it’s best to ask for support before reaching that stage where you’re locked in the bathroom and crying into a pillow.
First, identify who you want to include in your support network, be it friends, family, or trusted colleagues. Then, look ahead at what might be coming up for you.
Let’s say you anticipate a busy work week coming up. Try your best to plan ahead: Let your support network know that week may be challenging for you, and be specific about ways that they may be able to help.
Rather than letting others assume how to best provide support, clarify what you need, and ask the person if they have the bandwidth to assist or if there are any limitations. This could look like asking a partner for support with household chores or taking the opportunity to process a work experience with a trusted colleague. Remember that asking for help does not make you a bad parent or worker—it makes you human.
Being a working parent is one of the most challenging roles one can have, but remember that you deserve to take care of yourself, just like anyone else. Self-compassion can remind us that we are doing the best that we can, and that is more than enough.
If you feel like the support of a therapist could help you or someone you know, schedule a call with a Two Chairs Care Advisor to learn how we can help you, or book a matching appointment if you’re ready to get started.