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Backpacks, Binders, and Brawls: Parenting Self-Care for the Back-to-School Season

By: Leanne Heller

I attended a Zoom last week where the host stated that the phrase “self-care” is often overused or misused. For example, it can be tied to buying something you don’t need or prioritizing yourself over others.

I agree that “self-care” has oversaturated our culture and has been co-opted by marketing firms to sell products. But also, when did we become a culture that believes so strongly in sidelining your own needs - especially as a parent! - that we actually need a phrase to define and normalize the rare occurrence when it’s okay to also take care of yourself?

Back-to-school can have a whole host of conflicts with parental self-care. There are forms to fill out. Lunches to pack. Obscure lists of supplies - my favorite this year was a “Trapper Keeper type zippered binder” which actually turned out to be very useful, and “Thesaurus”, which my son swore up and down he would not use because he had - wait for it - the Internet.

He’s not wrong.

Then, there is the emotional load. Will your more anxious child feel safe in the classroom? Will your introvert have someone to sit with at lunch? And there are purely organizational tasks like coordinating pickup times or activity schedules.

In the midst of all this chaos, you may also feel the tug to use all that free time while they’re at school (haha, free time, just kidding) to fold the laundry and get the oil changed. And there may be some guilt if you choose not to act.

All of these things are good things. I like my job. I celebrate that my children live in a community where they can get a good education, transportation is provided, and so many activities are offered. But also, I am never going to get them to any of those activities, and certainly not in freshly-laundered clothes, if I’m burnt out and hiding in a corner stress-eating cheese.

So, I balance my time. I take a few hours a week to train in martial arts. That time on the mat resets my thought patterns and gives me some time when I do not have to be in charge or planning the next thing, I just have to show up and enjoy the quiet mental space.

This is self-care. It doesn’t mean I’m shirking from my responsibilities as a parent. And, my family agrees unanimously that Mom is a much more relaxed and fun person after (safely and with supervision) brawling with people for an hour. I believe being well-rested and balanced allows me to engage more effectively with my kids. I also want to model how it's important to work hard but it's equally valid to take a little time to do something you love that's just for you.

What is your self-care? What activities bring you joy? Do you ever feel reluctance to pursue them? Do you feel that it’s okay to take the time for yourself? What are your blockers and how could you work to change them?

PS. I bought the Thesaurus. It’s in my closet. Nobody is using it because we do, in fact, have the Internet.


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