February is Heart Health Month: What does this mean for parents and caregivers?
By Leah Persky, PhD & CFLE • Manager of Family Life Education
February is American Heart Health Month. Most of the focus of heart health is on physical health, but I have been thinking a lot lately about how being a parent impacts my own mental and physical well-being. As a parent, community educator and parent coach, I know there are many amazing and challenging aspects of being a parent today. This is nothing new of course – it has always been the hardest and most important job to be a parent. I love my children so much and simultaneously feel quite exhausted and uncertain about the future. How does this impact my well-being and longevity?
I don’t need to list the many things that fill the day of parents. Most parents work outside of the home, have very little free time, and are feeling drained and stressed. Research from the American Psychological Association in 2022 found that the level of stress parents in the U.S. are experiencing today is higher than it has been at any point since they have been keeping track in 2007. Parents are more stressed than their child-free counterparts about money, current events, housing costs and the economy. Research also demonstrates that parents feel a greater time crunch today than they have in past generations.
Economic, social, political and ongoing pandemic-related challenges add to already full plates. Not to paint too bleak of a picture, but most parents are feeling challenged today. During Heart Health Month, we should take a moment to reflect on all we do as parents and caregivers, and to give ourselves permission to focus on our own holistic well-being. We should prioritize this – it is important. If your first instinct is to say that you don’t have time, it is especially you that I am trying to reach.
Being a parent forever transforms our lives. Parents often sacrifice their own well-being to meet the needs of their children and family. This is especially true for mothers who do a large portion of the care work, even if they work full-time outside of the home (Center for American Progress, 2021). In the effort to better care for ourselves, whether you are a parent, grandparent or caregiver; here are some holistic heart-healthy actions we can all benefit from:
- Let expectations and comparisons go: Have you ever compared yourself to another parent or family and felt yourself lacking? I think we all have at some point. Parental guilt is real and there is much pressure to conform to fit into the ideals we see around us, on social media and with our peers. Have you ever felt guilt because you couldn’t be there for a recent event, can’t afford the vacation or camp (or insert latest gadget or activity here) your child is dreaming of? We need to each remind ourselves that our families are unique and that it does not serve a purpose to compare or feel badly about what you didn’t or can’t do. Trying to let go of guilt and embrace the present moment, being grateful for the small, beautiful things and wins around you is key to your happiness as an adult, parent or not! I encourage you to celebrate the small wins and victories with whatever it is that makes you happy.
- Find something you are excited about – for you, not for your kids or family members: You are not alone if you have felt that you have lost your way or lost a connection to your passions or interests that were so important to you prior to becoming a parent. Tapping into your own interests not only improves your well-being, but you will become a powerful role model to your family. Maybe you have wanted to complete a race, learn a new language, plan a trip to somewhere new or something else, now is the time to make it happen! If you don’t know what you want to do, that is okay too. Just make it a point to try something new every few weeks and start there.
- Realize what you can control and what you cannot: Living through the pandemic and being a parent has taught me that there is only so much that I can control. I cannot control the fact that my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes just over a year ago; as much as I would like to take that away from him, that is not something I can do. I think about this a lot! I have begun to shift my energy away from anger and guilt towards things I can do to better support his health. I love to cook, so I try out new things that I hope will help him be healthy and plan fun physical activities for our family to do together. Exploring groups where we can meet others in a similar situation has also been helpful and eye-opening.
These suggestions are simple but, not easy. Making these changes does not have to cost any money. Rather, breaking old habits takes time, focus and dedication to change. Doing this important work opens up space for new and positive things in your life. It is my hope that this February you will set aside time to care for yourselves and to make space for a stronger, healthier and happier you in the coming year. Taking care of yourself and your heart-health in a holistic way is not only good for you, it benefits your family as well. In addition to focusing on your physical health, check in with your mental and/or spiritual health this month too. Commit or re-commit yourself to caring for you. If you would like to discuss making a holistic well-being plan, please reach out to me. As a parent coach, I can help you to make a plan, set goals and work towards them. Here is to a healthy year ahead!