There are plenty of benefits to having kids later in life. Chances are that your finances are in better shape, you’ve built a solid community that includes other parents, and you’re just generally wiser and have weathered a few storms. That doesn’t mean it’s easy though! Especially if you’re looking after a lively toddler while approaching menopause. So, how can you nurture your own needs while parenting? Here are a few tips and tricks for self-care with a small child.
You’ve likely spent years babysitting, helping with dinners, hosting, and otherwise supporting friends and family who had kids before it was your turn. Now is the time to say “yes” to offers of help and/or to ask for an hour, evening, or even a whole weekend to yourself when you need it.
As a bonus, because you’ve spent all that time watching your friends parent, you know their style. That makes it all the easier to know who to ask to do a sleepover versus who can take your toddler on a fun (and safe!) outdoor adventure to teach them a new fun activity.
If your toddler is transitioning out of their afternoon nap, it’s a good idea to switch that nap for quiet time. This might mean that your child learns to play quietly by themselves while you read quietly, catch up on email, or listen to music or a podcast. This not only gives them a break from the often-frenetic pace of toddler life, it also means you might finally get to read a few pages of that book you borrowed, what, four years ago? Quiet time can also look like the two of your snuggling on the couch while you read your own book out loud (editing for age-appropriate content, of course).
Toddlers love a good face mask, so put them to work on supplies for your home spa day. Mash up some avocado, oats, and banana and give yourself a refreshing facial right at home. Naturally, this will be a messy endeavor and some amount of the mask will probably be consumed, but just roll with it and congratulate yourself on finding a novel way to help your kid eat more fruit.
If you’re really feeling that home spa vibe, you could consider enlisting your child as a mini masseuse. Those tiny toddler hands (or feet, if they safely can walk on your legs) make for an excellent (if short-lived) massage.
If you live in a big city, chances are there are dedicated parental groups you can join for advice and support. These kinds of groups are fantastic, especially for those in their twenties and early thirties. However, if you’re over 35 or 40 it can seem like most attendees aren’t grappling with the same issues you’re facing.
Being a first-time parent in your late 30s or early 40s can be especially isolating, so look to set up a support group that meets your needs. Think about folks you met in prenatal classes, at yoga, or elsewhere, and reach out to friends to see if they know people in their life who might also feel isolated. And, if you live somewhere remote, find friends on the internet. There are plenty of support forums out there for other first-time parents, from all walks of life.
Talking to other parents your age can also help you to be more forgiving to yourself. Becoming a parent later in life, you probably have higher expectations of yourself to be the ‘perfect’ parent. There’s no such thing. So, remember, even if you feel like you’re lacking in youthful energy, you more than make up for it in experience, creativity, and resourcefulness.
According to a study at the University of Sussex, UK, reading a book for just 6 minutes a day can reduce stress levels by more than 68%. Even in this short time, reading silently helped to slow down research participants’ heart rates and eased muscle tension. While the study found that any book seemed to help lower stress, I’d suggest staying away from intense parenting manuals or tragic fiction involving children and opt for science fiction, fantasy, or a literary or historical romance instead!
The same study found that listening to music reduced stress levels by 61%, so break out that record player and listen to music while you tackle Laundry Mountain. Or, enlist your toddler for a kitchen dance party before dinner. After all, researchers in Sweden found that dancing can help relieve physical pain, lower stress, and help people manage depression and anxiety.
Life with a toddler, especially in winter, can lead to a degree of cabin fever. It can feel like one long battle to get your child into winter boots and a snowsuit and chances are you’ll start to miss the feeling of a simple solo stroll.
Now’s the time to enlist a friend for some low-key babysitting so you can take a naptime walk or post-bedtime stroll unencumbered. You’ll soon feel refreshed by the exercise and fresh air, and the simple act of focusing on the sights, smells, and sounds of your surroundings without that laser focus on your child. In fact, taking a walk can reduce stress levels by 42%.
As a bonus, a summertime stroll can also boost your levels of vitamin D, which will help keep your bones strong – a key consideration if you’re approaching menopause. Vitamin D is also important for immune function, which can help keep those daycare coughs and colds at bay.
Sure, sleepless nights are a reality of life with a toddler, and it can be hard to keep up with someone who has the most energy they’ll have in their life, but fatigue, sleeplessness, a flagging libido, and other symptoms aren’t necessarily all related to the demands of parenting.
Don’t suffer in silence or write off your symptoms prematurely. There may well be simple things you can do to improve your sleep and put some pep back in your step.
If you’re feeling more tired than usual, have insomnia or wakefulness, are experiencing a (problematic) drop in libido, talking to a naturopathic doctor or other healthcare practitioner can help. These could be signs of an underlying health issue, nutrient deficiencies, and/or hormonal shifts leading up to menopause. Health providerscan do a personal assessment, suggest tests that may be helpful in discerning basic parental exhaustion from hormonal shifts, and make suggestions for lifestyle and dietary modifications and natural health products based on your age, needs, health, and preferences.
Are you a first-time parent over the age of 35? Share your top tips for self-care with a small child in the comments below!
Rishma Walji is a Naturopathic Doctor, Acupuncturist and PhD. She has been working in clinical practice for over 16 years helping families of all kinds along their journey to parenthood, through fertility, pregnancy and post-partum recovery. She has a unique balance of scientific, evidence-based knowledge and natural, holistic healing experience. What she’s learned is that there are options. There are steps you can take, once you learn how things work. She has dedicated her career to teaching people to understand their bodies and their physiology, empowering them to manage the things that are in their control and ultimately achieving lasting results.
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