Self-Care as a Caregiver

Fellow Parent, It’s Okay If You’re Not Okay

BY TERESA NG*

26 November 2021  |   7 min read

We were sitting in front of a counsellor to fix our marriage after close to a decade of living together, working at our careers, bringing up children and building a home.

Neither of us knew how we had got here.

When the first baby came, our bed for two made way for the little one, then the second arrived and suddenly, we weren’t even on the same bed anymore.

One of the pieces of advice we were given during parenting class was to take care of our marriage, one that I shoved to the back of my mind. After all, there were poopy diapers that needed changing, cries that needed soothing, bellies to be filled.

The constant neediness of my children not only took a toll on our marriage, but also my mental health.

Coupled with worry over sickly elderly parents and the upheaval of the pandemic, and I was in a mental mess.

No one shouts about it, but our hearts are whispering desperately: I am struggling.

We all are.

If I may offer some comfort, please know that you are not alone. There is someone out there who is struggling with the same experience, although perhaps not the exact circumstances.

And if you are struggling, it doesn’t mean that you are weak. You have probably walked a difficult, lonely road, on which you might have forgotten to take care of yourself.

If this describes you, can I encourage you to reach out to a trusted friend, fellow parent or counsellor?

It’s okay to ask for help.

One of the bravest things we can do is to be vulnerable and admit to others that we need help.

This may be in the form of relinquishing some responsibilities to our spouses, even if they do not complete tasks as well as we do.

We may have to lay down pretences of having it altogether and ask others for advice. It may also help to take time off to have tea with old friends and pour out our woes to them.

There will always be someone willing to listen.

My closest friends and I have a group chat called “good counsel”, where we are unafraid to bare our souls and no topic is off limits: conflict with in-laws, marriage struggles, parenting and work troubles included.

We call it our “anti-cancer talking therapy”.

There are also times when we need to seek professional help. There is no shame in that. Some issues are best worked out with someone who has been trained to listen well and offer relationship advice and new mental frameworks from a psychotherapy point of view.

It’s okay to take a break.

One of the bravest things we can do is to be vulnerable and admit to others that we need help.

A fellow mom once talked about the guilt she felt taking a walk by herself, away from her baby.

It was confounding yet perfectly understandable why she would feel so. Often, for mothers especially, we put our children’s needs before ourselves and forget to cater to ourselves.

But how can we effectively parent when our own needs are not being met?

To borrow an analogy from aircraft emergency procedures, when oxygen masks drop, adults are advised to “secure your own masks before assisting others”.

In the same way, self-care is important to keep us and our kids thriving.

Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Take a break from time to time.

It’s okay to feed your passion.

Having personal projects on the sideline is what has kept me going thus far.

Knowing that the kids are important but not the centre of my life has helped both me and them find balance. Some spend all their lives living for others and forget themselves.

If you’ve got a “giver” personality type, take some time off to rediscover a forgotten passion. Perhaps you once dabbled in baking, photography or painting?

Why not rope in the kids to help with your new hobby or get them involved in a small home-based business?

It’s okay to make kids work.

I believe in delegating chores around the house. The earlier you teach your children that work is a natural part of life, the easier it is going to be for everybody.

Children as young as three or four can help with the simple folding of laundry. A five-year-old can be tasked to wash his own school shoes.

Catch them when they are young and love to “help”, even if it means the mess usually gets bigger or takes longer to clean up. It pays off in the long term, trust me!

It’s okay to struggle in marriage.

I’m always very disheartened when others ask us about “date night” or even our sex lives. Sometimes it is just not possible with young children, when all we want to do is head to bed and… sleep.

But do learn from our mistakes. Don’t neglect the primary relationship that holds the entire family together – the one with your spouse.

Set aside “couch time” daily, where both of you spend time connecting and sharing about your day.

We know what it’s like to hit rock bottom and climb our way back up together. Marriage is hard work.

Photos taken in collaboration with Deborah Quek, featuring one of our ParentWise families.

It’s okay to set boundaries.

I’ve started telling the kids that there are times when they cannot disturb me: when I am in the toilet, showering, eating my food, busy with something or on a phone call.

Yes, I’ve actually have had to spell it out because they used to barge in or interrupt all the time.

There was a time I would take one-minute showers because the newborn wouldn’t stop crying, but not anymore. Not anymore. Toilet time is sacred now. Don’t be like me in the past.

It’s okay not to be “super”.

If there’s one thing I could change about the way I parent, it would be giving others the idea that I am doing great.

“You’re a Supermum”, is something I hear often, which becomes an unspoken pressure to keep up the pretence of having it altogether.

I’m struggling. We all are.

I’m not okay, and it’s perfectly alright if you’re not okay too.

Take care, fellow parent, I am rooting for you.

The author is a mother of three. *Name has been changed for privacy.

This article was first published on ParentWise. Developed by Temasek Foundation in partnership with SEED Institute (subsidiary of NTUC First Campus), ParentWise is a programme that offers curated evidence-based learning programmes and resources that parents and caregivers need to support their children. For more parenting tips and resources, please visit ParentWise at https://parentwise.sg/.