The Dad's Guide to Self-Care

Being a parent is the most rewarding experience on the planet, but it’s also a really tough job. Children are learning and experiencing something new every day, which means that every day they need a new level of comfort, explanation, and security from us. As parents, we’re happy to provide that, but the constant need of another person does wear a body down after time. Plenty of blogs focus on the need for moms to increase their self-care, but dads need self-care, too. Studies show that this generation’s dads are doing more for their kids than any previous generation’s dads—up to three times as much, in fact. While this is a great boon for our children, it also means that dads are now getting to be just as stressed out as moms—and just as in need of a good self-care regimen. So, for all the dads out there who need to re-learn what it means to be an individual, here’s a quick dad’s guide to self-care, which encompasses three major pillars: social health, emotional health, and physical health.  

Care for Your Social Self

When our days and evenings begin to revolve around our children, one of the first parts of our lives to take a hit is our social lives. It’s hard to pack up a baby—and everything it needs—and go visit our single friends, and sometimes it’s even harder to get the house picked up enough that we feel comfortable inviting friends over. Humans are social beings, however, and having a healthy social life is a pivotal element of healthy self-care. Here are some tips for keeping your social life stable while having kids.

Say Yes:

Whether it’s drinks with a couple of coworkers on Friday night or a holiday party that you and your wife are both invited to, don’t be afraid to say “yes” sometimes. It’s okay to put yourself in a position where you need to get a sitter for a couple of hours or ask your mom to come stay with the kids. In fact, doing so will actually teach your children about maintaining a balanced lifestyle. That said, make sure you check with your significant other before saying yes to ensure her comfort as well.

Trade with Your Spouse:

When you’re a hands-on dad, one of the hardest things can be heading out for a guy’s weekend when you know that it means you’re leaving all of the parenting tasks on your wife’s shoulders while you’re gone. Instead of feeling selfish for wanting a healthy social life, remember that your wife probably wants the same thing. Trade off: take an evening or a weekend with your buddies where she’s home with the kids, but then stay home with the kids yourself so that she can do the same.

Prioritize Your Spouse:

The easiest source of adult interaction is also the closest: Your spouse. If you’re married, your spouse is there every single day, meaning that you don’t even have to leave the house for adult interaction. Unfortunately, having children can put both parents in a tag-team mentality: One parent changes a diaper while the other one cooks dinner, and then the first parent starts running a bath while the other parent feeds the kids. But one important aspect of self-care is to care for your relationship. Set aside a certain portion of every day—right after work, perhaps, or right after the kids go to bed—where you connect as a couple, not just watching TV but actually sitting, talking to each other, and actively listening. If you do it right, you’ll find these to be some of the most rejuvenating parts of your day.

Care for Your Emotional Self

Moms aren’t the only ones who get postpartum depression: dads can, too. And if moms have a hard time admitting to their depression and reaching out for help, it’s even more difficult for dads, who may not realize that paternal postpartum depression can be normal. Caring for your emotional well-being is a huge step to being the dad your kids need you to be. Here’s how to start.

Say No:

While it’s okay to say “yes” to social events sometimes, it’s equally important to learn how to say “no” when you need to. Whether it’s your boss asking you to work overtime or your mother asking you to bring a dish to a party, if it’s going to cause you more stress than happiness, it’s all right to politely decline. While you can’t say no to everything, if your cup is feeling full at the moment, don’t let it run over by agreeing to more than you want to.

Pamper Yourself:

While it’s possible to care for your emotional self in other ways, one excellent way is to pamper yourself. Occasional self-indulgence is not the same as selfishness, and it can show your children the importance of taking time for yourself. Of course, pampering looks different for different guys. For some guys, it’s taking half an hour to really get a good wet shave. For other guys, it’s indulging in the shell cordovan wallet you’ve had your eye on.  If it makes you feel good, it counts as pampering, and you should be allowed to pamper yourself sometimes.

Get Help If You Need It:

If your need for self-care goes beyond the need for a little self-love, seek help. Going to therapy is a sign of strength, not of weakness, and can be exactly what you need to learn to prioritize your emotional well-being.

Care for Your Physical Self

One of the hardest forms of self-care—and the most important—is caring for your physical self. If your body is not operating at optimum capacity, you can guarantee that the rest of your life isn’t, either. While we all know that it’s important to get a good night’s sleep, eat healthy, and exercise, these can be especially hard to do when we have kids. Here are some tips.

Try a Nap:

Maybe you have a newborn who’s waking you up every couple of hours at night, or maybe you’re just stressed. Whatever the case may be, if you’re not getting enough sleep, your entire life is impacted. Everything from your concentration to your reaction times can be affected by too little sleep. If that’s the case for you, try working a nap into your day. If you’re a stay-at-home dad, choose to nap while your kids nap. If you’re well-rested, you’ll be more efficient, which means you may have an easier time getting to those dishes after anyway. If you’re not a stay-at-home dad, it may be harder to achieve the daytime nap, but maybe trade evening naps with your spouse or take a brief nap in the backseat of your car during your lunch break.

Keep Healthy Snacks Around:

If you don’t buy it, you won’t eat it. While this can be a great first step to learning not to overindulge in the bad stuff, it can also prevent you from eating the good stuff. When you have kids, a lot of life becomes grab-and-go, and if there’s nothing easy to grab, you might opt for fast food—or, worse, you might go without eating anything at all. If these are the kinds of situations you find yourself in, make a habit of buying healthy snacks that you can eat on the go. Apples, carrot sticks, peanut butter crackers, and dried fruit all make for grab-and-go snacks that are significantly more nutritious than eating fast food or not eating at all. And make sure you have ready-to-go bottles of water as well!

Make Play Time Active:

If you find that you don’t have time to hit the gym like you used to, multi-task by making the times you play with your children active times. Take your infant on a walk around the neighborhood or play touch football in the backyard with older kids. Whatever it takes, spend at least half an hour of each day actively playing with your children. The exercise and fresh air will do them good as well!

When you become a parent, you learn that your life can no longer be “me first,” but if you overdo things, you can forget to consider your needs at all. Far from being the best option from your family, all this does is raise your stress levels, causing you to have less patience with your children while simultaneously teaching them that if they want to be parents one day, they’ll have to give up the rest of their lives to do so. If that’s not what you want for your kids, then you have to set a good example by being the dad they deserve while also taking time for yourself.