Parental Self-Care: Nurturing Mental Wellness Amidst Responsibilities

As a parent, it’s hard not to feel like a ship adrift in vast and uncharted waters. As the days blend into nights in an endless cycle of care, concern, and unwavering dedication, the idea of self-care can feel as hazy and ephemeral as the memories of quiet mornings spent sipping coffee. Seriously, was that a thing…did I actually do that? 

Yet, just as our sailing ancestors needed to pause in their journeys to read the stars and ensure they were on the right path, it’s integral that we, too, remember to pause now and again to catch our breath and confirm that the path we’re on is truly leading us to our desired destination. While it’s easy to view the concept of “self-care” as either hopelessly unavailable at best, or willfully indulgent at worst, it’s not just an act of personal rejuvenation, but a profound commitment to nurturing mental wellness amidst the ceaseless responsibilities of raising our children. With nothing but the deepest gratitude and love in my heart, let me clearly state: being a parent is hard; to care for them, you need to care for you.

The Map: Charting our Ocean

In the context of parenthood, it’s easy to misconstrue self-care as a solitary activity; as if it’s some brief respite alone from the demands of family life. Ah, would that that were true…

However, just as the best maps clearly define the intricate details of the landscape, so too must our understanding of self-care encompass a more detailed perspective. It’s not merely about the occasional escape; the once-in-a-while individual event. Parental self-care is also about integrating moments of intention and care into the fabric of our daily lives. The vagueness of “there be dragons,” vs. the specificity and tangible practicality of “here come the rocks…take two minutes to sit and smell the coffee.”  

Simple, yet profound practices such as “mindfulness minutes,” intentionally cultivating gratitude by noting specific instances of joy in the little moments, and breaking habits of negative self-talk by purposefully embracing imperfection can mean the difference between losing our habitual patterns of stress, and just losing it. It's about acknowledging that taking care of your mental health is not a detour from your parental responsibilities but a vital part of the journey itself.

The Compass: How we Navigate

“This sounds great,” I hear you say, “but I’m overwhelmed and overloaded and no ‘mindfulness minute’ is going to make a dent.” Let me start by saying, I hear you! It may seem silly, but that’s because what I’ve mentioned so far is related to my compass; we need to first understand yours. 

In this metaphor, our compass doesn’t just point outward in the direction we want to travel, it starts by pointing inward, identifying what our “true north” even is. By pausing and reflecting on what replenishes your spirit, what brings you peace, it then allows you to define how to get it.  If you’re a person who needs quiet, your compass might lead you to establish a morning ritual before the household awakens, finding solace in the silence of dawn. Of if you’re a person who needs movement, it might inspire blocked off time for a trip to the gym, or even just a 5-minute family dance party or a quick run around the house (especially useful for those younger childhood years). If you find solace in introspection, you might find yourself guided towards journaling at the end of the day, capturing thoughts and reflections that otherwise get lost in the hustle and bustle of life. By identifying what best serves you and orienting yourself to your personal true north, you can allow your compass to guide you to the specific practices that are most resonant for your life.

The Journey: Sail your Ship

Right, but…now what? If you’re like me, your challenge with enacting self-care during your times of Dad-itude (or Ma-mazingness) are much less about knowing where you want to go, and more about feeling like you’re piloting your ship in the rough seas of The Perfect Storm. So how do we, you know, do the things?

Believe it or not, it still all starts in the space between your ears. It’s imperative that you recognize that self-care is not a selfish act but a foundational element of effective parenting. It sounds trite, but there’s a reason flight attendants remind us to put our oxygen masks on first: we’re simply no help to anyone if we pass out. And while this likely sounds obvious, it’s amazing how hard it is to really feel it during our day to day lives. So, connect with it; identify the word that most encompasses who you are when you’re at your best. Maybe it’s “patient,” or “kind.” You might like the word “nurturing” or possibly “compassionate.” For me, it’s “loving.” Now ask yourself, how connected are you to those words when you’re overtired, physically exhausted, or mentally and emotionally burnt out? Even small moments of self-care can refill our empty cups and allow us to connect with our values. And recognizing their true importance is the first step towards making room for them in our daily lives.

And for those of us who even now don’t quite feel comfortable admitting that taking care of ourselves, for us, is enough and need a child-centered reason: engaging in self-care allows us to model healthy behaviors for our children, teaching them the importance of mental wellness through lived example. It shows them that taking time to care for oneself is not only acceptable but essential. This lesson, woven into the fabric of everyday life, prepares our children to navigate their own emotional seas with self-compassion and grace. And who among us doesn’t want that?

The Future: Sailing Towards the Sun

Parental self-care isn’t just for moments of overwhelm, but is an integral sail built directly into our ship. It starts by understanding that amidst the responsibilities, the challenges, and the endless giving, there lies the profound ability to return to oneself, to nurture one's own mental wellness with the same dedication and enthusiasm that we show to our children. Afterall, amid the unwavering love and support that we strive to give our children, we can’t underestimate the profound gift we give them through an example of a life lived with intention, care, and emotional richness. Let us, as parents, commit to this journey of self-care. For in caring for ourselves, we are indeed caring for the very beings we cherish most.

And if you’re looking for a specialist to help you on your parenting journey, Lifeologie Counseling is here for you. Meet our many parenting specialists at and find out which therapist in our practice is right for you.

About Richard Aab

Richard Aab, LCMHCA, has a BFA in Theatre from NYU and received his Clinical Mental Health Counselor, M.Ed. (Master’s in Education) from North Carolina State University. He is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate (LCMHC-A) and Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). Richard has a deep commitment to working with individuals overcoming developmental and childhood trauma, and he combines cutting-edge, neuroscientific research with traditional existential and behavioral therapeutic modalities. He is supervised by Elizabeth Grady, LCMHCS, and sees adult clients by telehealth.

Meet Me