Life Out of Balance? Put Yourself Back on the List

by Dr. Laura Markham

“I know one thing for sure. It is impossible to find one’s own balance from the outside in. I now know beyond a doubt that finding—and maintaining—our balance is an inside job.” – Lu Hanessian

When you’re at home with your family, you have a running list. Change the baby, feed the toddler, teach the preschooler to pick up her toys, get the elementary schooler to do his homework, help the tween braid her hair, negotiate with the teen, make dinner, fold laundry, pay the bills, email your boss, connect with your partner… the list never stops. But have you fallen off your own list?

The only way to keep your cup full in the constant vortex of parenting is to tend to yourself even while you tend to your child. That’s why we need to train ourselves. Throughout your day, can you make it a priority to check in with yourself?

Often, we’re surprised to realize that we deny our desires automatically, without even noticing it. Maybe we’d love a cup of tea while we help our child with that project but “it’s too much trouble.” Maybe we really need a hug or a good cry. Maybe we’re tempted to pick up a crayon and enjoy expressing our creativity while our child is coloring, but we’d feel silly. Or maybe we simply need a quick visit to the bathroom, but we routinely wait until we absolutely can’t delay any longer.

Starting today, put what you need on the list and do it as soon as you can.  Yes, it is possible. Here’s how.

  1. Today, at the same time that you’re taking care of your child, check in with yourself. Notice what you need. Is there anything you can give yourself right now that would help you stay in balance? Sure, you need to tend to your child. But tend to yourself at the same time, or as soon as possible. I know you can’t buy a ticket to go to Hawaii, but at each moment there is some small thing that would nurture you physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. Find it and give it to yourself.

If there’s something you really need that you aren’t getting, like sleep, make a plan. Let’s say your infant wakes up all night and you have a toddler to tend to during the day.  It’s not doing your toddler any good for you to drag yourself through your life feeling resentful. You don’t need to be a martyr. Figure out a way to get the help you need, even just a step in the right direction. That will give you the momentum to take another step.

  1. Make it a habit to tune into yourself as often as possible throughout your day.If you work outside the home, this is usually easier to do in the course of the day, but most of us don’t do it. We get hooked on the adrenaline of rushing. But you’ll be better at your job if you get into the habit of being more present. And if you’re home with children, it’s essential. When we’re distracted, children act out to get us to come back into the moment to connect with them. They respond to our presence by wanting to “follow” us. How? Just take a deep breath and let it flood your body with well being. Breathe in calm, breathe out stress. Simply being present with yourself is an essential form of “attention” that we all need.
  2. Before you pick up your child at daycare, or walk into the house, stop. Take a deep breath and ask yourself “What do you need right now, Sweetie?” Listen to whatever answer pops up. Make a deal with yourself about when you can meet that need, and how you will do it. For instance, if the answer you hear is “Love” you’ll want to find a way to work some snuggle time with your child and/or your spouse into your evening. If the answer is “A break!” you may want to order pizza for dinner and put everyone to bed early so you can take a long bath.

Of course, if you get the same answer every day, you may need to make some structural changes in your life.

  1. Slow down and show up.Often we’re so focused on the list that we forget to really live. But this is the only chance you get in this body, and your child really will be grown in the blink of an eye. If you’re too busy to revel in your child’s natural joy, you’re turning up your nose at the fuel that keeps you going as a parent. What happened to that joyful, exuberant person inside you? He or she is your antidote to burnout. Yes, your children and household will demand every moment you have. But many of those moments are full of joy, if you choose to simply enjoy them, and let the pressure go for a bit. Your life doesn’t have to be perfect for you to soak in every moment of goodness you can.
  2. Parent yourself.Whose job is it to nurture you? Yours. Spouses, partners, friends and families are companions on the journey, but we can only take in from them what we’re able to give to ourselves. If you weren’t nurtured enough as a little one, this may take some learning. Start by talking to yourself like someone you love. Nurture yourself through the hard times. Acknowledge just how hard it all is, and how hard you try. You don’t need to be perfect. You are more than enough, exactly as you are.  You deserve all the tenderness you would shower on a newborn baby.

Giving that love to ourselves transforms our parenting – and our lives. Ok, so when the baby’s crying and you yourself need a good cry, it’s true that the baby comes first. But tuning into yourself and embracing yourself with love at the same time – and crying, if you need to – will make you both feel better.

For today, just notice your internal barometer as you put yourself back on your list. 1 is depleted, 10 is a full cup. How are you doing? What one thing can you do right now to give yourself more support?


Dr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. She earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University and has worked as a parenting coach with countless parents across the English-speaking world, both in person and via phone. You can find Dr. Laura online at, the website of Aha! Moments for parents of kids from birth through the teen years, where she offers a free daily inspiration email to parents.