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Wellbeing snacks: the answer to parental burnout?

Spoiler alert: wellbeing snacks are nothing to do with food. There are no pastries or packets of crisps in this article. And I won’t be giving you permission to eat chocolate (unless it’s a very small square of 85% dark chocolate, in which case go ahead, fill your boots!)

When the pandemic first hit, the instruction to work from home seemed like the dream to many working parents. Especially so for those of us who have long campaigned for more flexible working. Eighteen months later and I think we’ve all learnt a lot more about the realities of working from home.

What’s abundantly clear is that working from home doesn’t automatically deliver better quality of life for busy parents. Yes, we can avoid the pesky commute and be at home to let the plumber in. And there’s a bit less panic and scrambling when poorly children are sent home from school. But we definitely haven’t ended up working less.

In fact, working from home easily leads to doing more, not less. The same mobile technology that enables remote working also increases our availability for work. As the boundaries between work and home dissolve, we feel obliged to respond to communications as soon as they arrive. We pause our parenting shift to shoot off a quick answer to an email. We check that new message on our phone even though we are playing with our toddler. And if, for any reason, we can’t respond to the lure of that ping immediately, we experience an uncomfortable build-up of tension.

Rather than gaining extra family time by working from home, many parents have found that work has slowly expanded to fill the spaces, leaking more and more into personal time, shrinking our downtime. And that all-important self-care has fallen off the bottom of our to-do lists (again).

With a move to hybrid working imminent for many, and levels of parental burnout astronomically high, we need to find a sustainable solution for managing work-life issues and nurturing our wellbeing while working from home. And – because time is short and working parents have a tendency to prioritise everything else except themselves – the solution needs to be bite-sized.

That’s where wellbeing snacks come in.

Since the start of the pandemic, I have been cajoling working parents to have regular breaks and ‘refresh moments’ to break up work. There’s always lots of nodding but, I suspect, a lot less action.

Then, last week, listening to an episode of Just One Thing by Michael Mosley (‘Exercise Less, More Often’), it hit me that the problem was the branding not the message. Self-care has got itself a bad reputation. It’s a toxic brand. On a psychiatrist’s couch, the word associations for “self-care” would be something along the lines of “If anyone else tells me to look after myself or have a candlelit bath, I will scream. Or hit them.”

Even I ignore myself when I’m talking about self-care.

But what if we renamed self-care and called it wellbeing snacks? Snacks, yum! Wellbeing, that’s good for me! Snacks that are good for me, I like this idea! Mini brownie-sized pieces of yummy wellbeing that I can snack on throughout the day – without impacting on my productivity or getting in the way of family time.

For me, the idea of snacks feels so much more manageable than a-whole-bowl-of-lentils yoga class (which nine times out of ten I don’t even do). I’m thinking:

  • Two minutes of neck yoga at my desk
  • A 3-minute meditation
  • One minute of star jumps between zoom calls. Or maybe squats. Or knee lifts. But only one minute!
  • Running up and down the stairs one extra time when searching for a teen’s lost trainers
  • A mindful drink of water
  • Ten deep pilates breaths
  • Lying on the floor listening to a song. I may even do snow angels on the carpet if I feel like it.

Maybe the isolation of so long working at home has turned my brain a bit but I really do think there is something in this idea. After all, one of the big advantages of working at home is that no one is watching. And if I want to dance in the kitchen as a wellbeing snack then, Yes Sir, I Can Boogie!

I think this rebrand has legs…..

woman dancing to illustrate article on wellbeing snacks by parenting expert Anita Cleare

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The Work/Parent Switch.

By Anita Cleare

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