Do you recognize the parent who sounds like this?

To the kids: “Wash your hands!” “Eat your vegetables!” “You need your sleep!”

To yourself: “I have to get these gifts wrapped for next week – I have to prep tomorrow night’s supper – I have to find kiddo’s cleats for soccer tomorrow – I have to finish that report for work tomorrow…”

Many of us feel the pressure of getting everything done for everyone else, and can tend to put our own needs way down the priority list. (The irony isn’t lost on me that I’m writing this at 11 p.m.)

But we’re smart, and we know that’s not sustainable. It’s not what our parents wanted for us. And it’s not what we want to teach our kids.

Leading by example: showing love for yourself

Our kids learn from what we do at least as much as from what we say. So prioritizing your own well-being isn’t self-indulgent, it’s good parenting. It’s showing your children it’s important to take care of yourself so you can be at your best in everything else you do.

Here are three ways you can show your kids self-care is important:

  1. Set a specific “family time” for a certain time each day that makes sense for your family rhythm. Maybe the half-hour after supper we all go for a walk around the block. The dishes aren’t going anywhere, and you can explain to your children why it’s important to you to do this every day. (Pouring rain? Make it family yoga. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a half hour you can dedicate to just moving your bodies and enjoying one another.)
  2. Play the “high-low” game every day at supper or bedtime. At a regular time each day, each person says what their high point and their low point of the day was. This kind of sharing helps children build mindfulness and empathy – and helps keep you from feeling like your days and weeks are flying by unnoticed.
  3. Do things just for you, and explain that’s what you’re doing. It could be mommy’s tea-and-a-book break, or daddy’s walk-alone-with-his-iPod, or whatever would give you the best opportunity to re-charge. Arrange with your partner (or set aside time after kiddos are in bed, if you need to) to make this happen every day, and don’t apologize for it. You need mental and emotional fuel as much as physical fuel to be able to run at full speed; don’t let your tank run dry.

Of course, eat well, drink water, don’t smoke, get eight hours of sleep per night… as much as you can. It’s not all-or-nothing – every little bit helps. And it gives your little ones the opportunity to see healthy self-care as the “default” way to be.