self care tips

Parenting can be an exciting, happy and rewarding experience for many people. It can also be stressful, overwhelming and exhausting at the same time. 

That’s why it’s important to take care of ourselves as parents and caregivers. Caring for ourselves not only improves our own well-being but can also help us be more present, patient and intentional with our kids.  

Whether you struggle to find the time or aren’t sure what to do, here are a few strategies and reminders to help you start taking better care of yourself. 


How can parenting affect well-being? 

Parenting, like any caregiving role, requires ample time, energy, labor and emotional investment. These factors can impact a person’s well-being over time and can manifest in a variety of ways, including: 

  • Acute or chronic stress 
  • Sleep deprivation 
  • Poor eating habits 
  • Limited physical activity 
  • Susceptibility to illnesses or physical ailments 
  • Depression or anxiety 
  • Postpartum depression 
  • Social isolation 
  • Postponing medical or mental health care 
  • ... and more 

As a caregiver, it’s important to familiarize yourself with early warning signs that something may be ‘off,’ so that you can more effectively address your needs. Common indicators of excess stress or impacts on your well-being can include things like: 

  • Irritability, crying or outbursts 
  • Difficulty sleeping, feeling fatigued 
  • Difficulty concentrating or feeling forgetful 
  • Feeling unsafe, unhappy, guilty, anxious or lonely 
  • Feeling withdrawn or losing interest in activities or people 
  • Headaches, dizziness, upset stomach 

It’s also important to notice when you start to become impacted by things that feel excessive, prolonged or are difficult to resolve. If you start experiencing these signs or other changes, it is time to prioritize your health and well-being. Let a trusted loved one know that you are struggling and that you may need to seek out additional support. You may also benefit from scheduling a checkup with a medical or mental health professional.  

Important note 

Common mental health conditions can occur during pregnancy or after giving birth. Postpartum depression and psychosis are serious mental health conditions that require mental health or medical attention to treat right away. 

1. Show yourself (and others) compassion 

While it may seem like some parents have it all figured out, it’s important to remember that perfect parents don’t exist. Everyone faces challenges and experiences difficulties. However, this doesn’t stop many of us from comparing ourselves to other parents or judging how we’re doing as a parent. 

That’s why it’s important to practice compassion toward yourself and others as you continue your parenting journey. Keep in mind that practicing compassion can be difficult at first and may take some practice, especially if you tend to be more self-critical. 

Here are some exercises you can use to help foster compassion for yourself and those around you. 

Pause to notice your thoughts. Do you notice when you are being hard on yourself? When you’re feeling frustrated or critical of yourself, pause for a moment and reflect on how you may be judging yourself unfairly as a parent. For instance, you may tell yourself you are a ‘bad parent’ for getting angry with your child. When you notice these types of thoughts, ask yourself questions like: 

  • Is this statement true, or is it just how I’m feeling in this particular moment? 
  • Would I judge or speak this way to a friend? 

Reframe negative thoughts with compassion. Many of the criticisms we have about ourselves as parents can stem from comparisons, unrealistic expectations or a lack of confidence in our parenting style. Reframing our thoughts into more compassionate statements can help you build confidence and give yourself (and others) grace. Here are some ways you can reframe statements to show compassion to yourself and those around you. 

  • I am trying my best and learning as I go. (Alternatively, my [partner/friend/etc.] is doing their best, and we are both learning as we go.) 
  • I’m not alone; other parents find this hard, too. 
  • It’s okay if I can’t figure this out right now. I will try again later. 
  • Things have been difficult lately, and I need to take some time to care for myself. (Alternatively, Things have been difficult for my partner and me lately, and we need to find a way to take a short break from being parents.) 
  • No one is perfect. We are all doing the best we can with what we have. (Alternatively, no one is perfect. My in-laws are doing the best they can with what they have.) 

While we try to do the best we can for our children, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to make mistakes and we can’t control everything all the time. If you feel challenged as a parent, don't beat yourself up about it. Instead, try to approach challenging situations with a sense of kindness and a growth mindset. 

2. Ask for and accept help 

You may have heard the adage: it takes a village to raise a child. While we have largely moved away from collective childrearing as a society, this phrase still rings true in many ways. Asking for and accepting help can play an important role in protecting the well-being of parents, even if it feels difficult to do so. Without the help of others, we may end up feeling overwhelmed or overextended, which can negatively affect our health.  

If you struggle to ask for or accept help, here are a few strategies you can use to help you lean into support systems. 

Think small. It’s common for parents to feel like they’re ‘burdening’ others by asking for help. One way to overcome this is to come up with a variety of smaller tasks that don’t feel like big commitments for others. For instance, you may ask a neighbor to grab a few miscellaneous things at the grocery store or pick up an online order for you. Alternatively, you could ask a friend to help you get some time away  by asking them to take your child for a short walk a few times each week or watch their monitor during naptime. Brainstorming potential tasks in advance can help you respond and accept help when someone offers it. 

Change of perspective. Sometimes, we may feel apprehensive about letting others care for our children because they may not 'parent’ them the same way we do. This can hinder our ability to accept much-needed help by focusing on slight differences rather than the benefits of having support. When someone offers to help watch your kids, try to adapt your perspective and practice flexibility. You can tell yourself that even though this person may care for your child in a different way than you would, it can still be good and helpful. If a person’s style of care does impact your child, you can always change your mind.  

Collective tasks. Asking a person to take on a care task by themselves may feel like too much to ask. However, you can also invite friends, family or neighbors to help you complete tasks as a team. For instance, you may invite a family member over to help you cook dinner or watch your children while you prepare a meal. Alternatively, you may ask someone to accompany you while you’re out doing errands so that you don’t have to worry about caring for your child while trying to complete other tasks. Try to think through some everyday tasks that you struggle with on your own and come up with a list of people who may be willing to help. Tackling things as a team can also help you socialize and get support from loved ones outside of your immediate household. 

3. Make wellness a priority for your whole family 

For many parents, self-care and wellness activities may feel out of reach because of time or resources. If this sounds familiar, it may be helpful to prioritize wellness as a family. Here are a few ideas you can try to incorporate wellness into your every day, even when you feel short on time. 

Sleep 

Nighttime routines 

You probably have a bedtime routine for your children, but do you have one for yourself? Try creating a routine that helps you decompress and prepare for bed at the end of the day after your children are down for bed. 

Sleep schedules

Create a sleep schedule that ensures that you and your children both get adequate sleep at night. For instance, if you have an infant that needs care throughout the night, you may plan a schedule with your partner to determine who is expected to get up at different times in the night. 

Naps

If your child takes naps, consider taking a nap yourself while they’re down. If you’re nervous about falling asleep, consider using a monitor to alert you to your child’s needs. 

Physical activity 

Physical activity can be a great way to manage stress and let off steam after a difficult day of parenting.  

Walking

Committing to a gym or other activities can be challenging, especially as a family. If that’s the case, it may make more sense to walk around your neighborhood or a local park together.  

Wiggle and dance

Encourage your family to have a dance party. This may look different depending on how old your children are, but it can be as simple as stomping around and clapping, singing “head, shoulders, knees and toes” or going all in on the living room dancefloor.  

Baby yoga

If you’re a new parent, doing yoga with your baby can be a great way to bond and ease back into exercise with safe and gentle movements.  

Social support 

Expanding your social support network you feel more connected with people outside of your immediate household. 

First-time parent groups

The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) offers free support groups for expecting and new moms, open to all. These informal groups allow you to discuss the challenges of being a mom with a career, share ideas and offer support.  

Local opportunities

You can connect with other children and parents by attending local activities and opportunities. For instance, your local library may have a free story time or your local hardware store may offer hands-on workshops for kids. 

Online communities

You can find just about anything on the internet, including supportive and social parenting groups. MeetUp allows you to sort through local groups by interest, including expecting mothers, active parents, teen parents, single parents and more. 

4. Take advantage of benefits and support services 

CU Boulder staff and faculty can access a variety of benefits for their family through the university and community partners. Here are a few to check out. 

CU benefits

Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP)

FSAP provides a variety of free mental health services for CU Boulder staff and faculty, including workshops, support groups, same-day appointments, short-term counseling (including family and couples counseling) and more. Staff and faculty can take advantage of FSAP services without taking sick leave or paid time off. 

Children’s Center

CU Boulder offers childcare to community members, staff, faculty and students conveniently close to campus. Staff and faculty receive a discounted rate for enrollment. The Children’s Center accepts children from six weeks to five years old on both part-time and full-time schedules. Applications are required. 

Bright Horizons

CU Boulder partners with Bright Horizons to help employees better manage work, family and personal responsibilities by providing back-up child, adult and elder care. Eligible employees can use backup care up to ten times per calendar year. Available care options drop-in care centers, in-home care and online tutoring. 

Parental leave

Staff and faculty may be eligible for both paid and unpaid parental leave. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons. In addition to FMLA, employees are entitled to take up to six months of paid parental leave within 12 months of birth, adoption, foster care placement or guardianship of a child. 

Family sick leave

Staff and faculty can use their available sick leave to help support their family members including: 

  • Caring for a family member who is sick, injured or undergoing medical treatment(s) 
  • Care for a family member whose school or place of care is closed due to unexpected events. 

Insurance

When life changes, your insurance may need to change, too. If you have experienced a qualifying life event like the birth, adoption guardianship or loss of a child, CU Boulder allows you to update your insurance plan within 31 days of the qualifying event.  

Mobile food pantries

Staff and faculty who are struggling with food insecurity can receive up to 30 pounds of food from mobile food pantries. Mobile food pantries are available once per month. Registration is required. 

AcademicLiveCare

Staff and faculty can schedule free telehealth medical, psychiatric, counseling and nutrition appointments online with AcademicLiveCare. This service is free regardless of your health insurance plan. 

Lactation rooms

There are lactation rooms available throughout campus. Check this map to find a private, comfortable lactation room near you. 

Additional benefits

Childcare discounts 

The State of Colorado offers state employees (including CU Boulder staff and faculty) discounts from AXIS International Preschool (10% discount), KinderCare Learning Centers/Knowledge Learning Corporation (10% discount), and Little People’s Landing (10% discount). 

Colorado Childcare Assistance Program

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) helps families that are homeless, working, searching for work or in school find low-income childcare assistance. 

Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)

WIC provides support and resources for low-income pregnant mothers and mothers raising children younger than five years old. Benefits include breastfeeding resources, food support, personalized nutrition education and low-cost community referrals.