“You can’t pour from an empty cup.” It’s a well-known saying that means you must take care of yourself before you can care for others. Logically, it makes sense. Unless you are physically and emotionally well, you can’t possibly lead others to physical or emotional wellness. Practically, however, it can be a difficult balance to achieve… especially when you’re a single parent, a Sandwich Generation caregiver or neighbor caring for a friend.
Let’s face it. For the mother or father, there is always more to do than there is time in which to do it. The responsibilities of raising a child without a spouse or significant other to help can easily take up every spare minute of a very long day. From picking up and dropping off at daycare, school, and extracurricular activities to working, housework, and appointments, it can feel impossible to find five minutes to drink your coffee while it’s hot… much less a half an hour to work out. Plus, who has the energy or money?
The thing is, there are ways to make physical fitness a reality even with little to no resources to spare. And if you want to be a healthy influence for your family, if you want to be around to witness all their milestones and memories, and if you want to truly be able to care for them to the best of your ability, your own health and well-being have to be a priority.
So, start by setting a goal. Figure out what you want to accomplish in terms of improving your health, and be reasonable. Whether you want to do a 20 minute at-home workout three times per week, take 10,000 steps each day, or train for a marathon, you will have to set aside time, energy, and sometimes even money to accomplish it.
For many parents and caregivers, it’s easier to work out alone, without the kids or aging parent. Early morning or late night workouts while they are sleeping are great options. For others, lunch-hour sweat sessions or walks at a park close to the office are the best way to get their heart rate up and achieve their fitness goals. I even have one friend who takes a 10-minute break every two hours to do a set of squats, lunges, and calf-raises right in her office. As an added bonus, she says it makes her more productive.
If working out without the little ones isn’t a possibility, you still have options. For instance, there is likely a gym or fitness center nearby that offers on-site child care. You can attend a fitness class, go for a run, or just spend some time in the hot tub while your children play in a safe, supervised setting. For aging parents, there’s local senior centers, adult day care facilities and organizations like Oasis (https://www.oasisnet.org). Of course, gym memberships can be costly. If you’re looking for a less expensive option, consider working out at home. For less than the monthly cost of a family membership at a local gym, you can invest in your own equipment, like dumbbells, a yoga mat, and resistance bands. You don’t need a lot of space, and you can find any type or workout for any fitness level for free right on the internet.
They key is, once you’ve made a plan, stick to it. Even with all the planning and good intentions, there will be days when motivation will be difficult to come by. In those moments, it’s important to remember why you’ve chosen to work out in the first place. If you feel like you need a break, take one. If you choose not to work out, use that time to read, nap, or engage in another form of self care. Then get right back on track. In the end, you might just find that caring for yourself is the thing that takes your cup from empty to overflowing.