Health & Science

Self Care For Parents of Color—How To Keep Going When It’s Just Too Much

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

So many of us are reeling right now after years of political unrest, division, and endless months of pandemic restrictions. But for Black parents and parents of Black kids, who are dealing directly with the dangers and extreme stress brought about by generations of oppression on top of the challenges of current events, the impact is particularly stark. The same is true for Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) parents as they grapple with talking to their kids about surges in anti-AAPI violence.

So while all parents are urged to make self care a priority, parents of color in particular can benefit from the de-stressing and refocusing it can provide. 

All the general self care tips you might have heard certainly apply—be sure to get exercise and time outdoors, eat healthy foods, try meditation or journaling breaks, and maybe even create a “safe word” to let your family know when you’re near your breaking point and need some time alone. But is there anything specifically parents of color can do to look after their mental health? We consulted several Black-led sources and racially diverse experts to find out—here are some self care tips that dig a little deeper.

(And by the way, if you’re a white parent who’s looking for the most compassionate and responsible ways to support Black and other marginalized friends, check out our guide here.)

Disconnect from social media

AFROPUNK, a Black-owned business that supports people of color and the LGBTQIA community, points out that you’re likely to meet a barrage of stress online—from disturbing news images to well-meaning (but emotionally taxing) DMs from friends asking how you are. It’s important to stay informed, but there’s a point where that exposure can become toxic—and even negatively impact your self esteem and sleep. 

Consider setting concrete parameters to protect yourself from too much social media, such as:

  • Set a timer for 20 minutes when you pick up your phone, so you don’t get lost in hours of doom-scrolling.
  • Balance the time you spend absorbing negative or stressful news with an equal amount of time nurturing your mental health—try meditating, doing stretches, or playing with your kids.
  • Try not to end your day with an online session. Scroll your feed whenever you feel most able to handle stress, whether that’s first thing in the morning when you know you’ll get to immediately change gears, or right before a workout when you can sweat out some of that anger and stress.

Create a grief jar

“We are grieving and may not even want to recognize it or hold space for it because of our socialization to ‘Keep Going!’” says The Nap Ministry, an organization founded in the belief that rest is a form of resistance and reparations. “This denial of the process of grieving creates more trauma and in the long run, disrupts our healing.” One way they recommend to slow down and mindfully work through grief is by creating a grief jar. 

Designate a jar to use for this purpose, and put in a place where you’ll notice and reflect on it often. Throughout the week, stop to think about moments of grief, large and small. Write them on a slip of paper, fold them up, and put them in the jar. “Yesterday, I wrote of my tenderness and sadness for my 12-year-old son who will not be able to celebrate his birthday this weekend with his annual sleepover with friends” because of the pandemic, shared The Nap Ministry’s founder, Tricia Hersey. “He told me he is sad and we leaned into the grief together.” Acknowledging and working through this trauma can help ease the pain of letting it go.

Find traditional sources of healing

Jacquelyn Clemmons, founder of De La Luz Wellness which offers birth and postpartum support as well as doula mentorship, points out that chronic stress has been inherited in Black communities through a history of oppression, and can be carried on through as many as 10 generations. However, possible treatments for that stress have been inherited, too. “Gathering together in movement circles, dancing, drumming, and singing are all traditional ways of releasing stress,” she says (just participate with members of your own household, or be sure to keep the activities outdoors, masked, and socially distanced during the pandemic). Share these sources of resilience with your family. “Eating together and telling stories from the past is also a lighthearted way to share history, laugh, and create intergenerational bonds. These practices are vital to repairing wounds and connecting us to each other and ourselves.”

Identify your stressors

Some sources of your stress might be obvious, but others might be more hidden. Think carefully—how do you really feel about your commitment to lead your preschooler’s online storytime every week? If it doesn’t bring you joy and you’re able, cancel it. How do you feel about the things you see on your trip to work every day? If you have to pass through neighborhoods that make you feel unwelcome in any way, maybe you can change up your route. “Start pinpointing the reasons for your daily stress, and create goals to eliminate or resolve what’s depleting your energy,” suggests Satya, a global wellness leader and the Founder of Black Women Healing Retreats, the first wellness retreat for Black women. “Eliminating stressful situations allows space in our lives for better things to come.”

Combat negative self talk

If society at large is sending negative messages about you or people who look like you—whether it’s an overtly racist comment on the street or a subtle microaggression from a colleague or neighbor—it’s hard not to internalize. Learn to identify when you have an automatic negative thought about yourself or your actions, stop, and replace that thought with something kind or positive instead. One idea for how to do that comes from a crowd-sourced document of self care ideas for people of color compiled by Reverend Elizabeth Nguyen: “Imagine you’re your best friend. If you were, what would you tell yourself right now? Look in the mirror and say it.”

Talk to your kids about your efforts, be honest with some examples, and teach them this tool they can use to lift themselves up, too.

Create a toolkit

In their 2017 Healing Packet, Women of Color In Solidarity shared that race-based trauma can cause symptoms and experiences that mimic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One strategy for dealing with feelings arising from PTSD is to create a coping toolkit to have on hand when you start to feel anxious or stressed. You can make one for yourself, and help your kids create their own using items that are meaningful and helpful for them. Some suggestions for what to include:

  • Distractors that help you calm down (like fidgets or books), or practice low-stakes problem solving (such as puzzles)
  • Comfort items from physical comfort (pillows, aromatherapy) to emotional comfort (calming or happy music, photos and letters from family/friends)
  • Means of self-expression such as a journal, art supplies, sketch book, etc. to help you process your feelings
  • A list of resources you might need in times of stress, like the names of friends you can call, Instagram accounts to scroll that only share uplifting Black-positive messages, meditation apps you wanted to try, or racial advocacy or hotline numbers in case they become necessary

Taking good care of yourself is integral not only to your own well being, but also to your ability to take care of your children. Try these ideas to bolster your mental health, and never hesitate to ask for help if the stress becomes overwhelming.

Visit Harvard’s Anti-Racism Resources for links to even more resources for self care.

Robyn is Editor-in-Chief at ParentsTogether and is co-author of several NYTimes bestselling anthologies. She lives in southern Michigan with her husband and five children.