Recently I had a conversation about the idea of “self-care” and how it’s something that we all say is sooooooo important, but how all of the advice about how to actually do this self-care thing is kind-of ridiculous. All of the suggested activities seem to involve time or money (you know, things parents don’t have a lot extra of…).

So after reading several dozen blogs about the critical importance of bubble baths (which lack rejuvenating qualities when your kid busts in to use the toilet), and taking time to meditate daily (i.e. nap time while sitting and drooling on self), I started making a list of real life self-care activities that most parents could actually do.

Here’s what I came up with. REALISTIC self-care for parents.

recognize your season

There’s a lot of power is just recognizing that there are times in life when you just have to let things slide. I have a friend who I know cares about the environment, yet she serves food pretty much exclusively on paper plates. In college, she would have been horrified by someone else doing this, but now girlfriend has four kids under the age of five. It’s paper plate season.

Maybe it’s not the right season to try to cook an organic paleo holiday meal, with beautiful table-scaping and personalized place cards that tell each guest why you are personally thankful for them in the form of a whimsical haiku. Maybe it’s okay that this is a season of the yoga pants (without ever actually going to yoga class).

The flip side to this is recognizing when things are calming down, and you can, take some more time for yourself. Sometimes we get so used to constantly being the on-demand mom, we keep the habit going longer than we need to. I started taking piano lessons about a year ago, in part to force myself to do something just for myself every day. No way could that have happened when my kids were little but now I can find the spare twenty minutes.

The trick is remembering that I can do this now, and that my season as “Mommy” is starting to change. Remember that scene in Footloose when Kevin Bacon quotes the Bible to show that there is a time to dance? It’s like that. A time to use paper plates, and a time to learn piano: know what season you are in, and accept it fully.

clean up your newsfeed

For many of us, a quick check on our social media site of choice is a way to take a tiny break. When I was home with really small children, checking Facebook reminded me of my adult self, and let me be the person I missed being — and I was so grateful for that. Occasionally though, emotional bombs get triggered though social media. It’s all too easy to fall into a comment war, or to spend the afternoon internally brewing over some obnoxious post.

Do yourself a favor: unfollow people who annoy you. It’s just that simple. They’ll probably never know- and even if they do, who cares, really? In the end, haters gonna hate- but they ain’t going to do it in my newsfeed.

stoplights are your friend

I think that most of us would agree that stoplight are either a) totally annoying; or b) a chance to finish eating breakfast/ apply lip gloss/ root around in the purse for gum. A few years ago, someone suggested to me to use red lights as mini-meditations. Instead of letting that time be spent in frustration or problem solving, just stop, breathe and observe.

This practice amazed me.

Taking the ten to sixty seconds given to me by the traffic gods to hit the pause button in my mind, and to just be still for a moment was shockingly rejuvenating. Clouds are really pretty — you should look at them. Sometimes people paint their front doors funky colors — it’s fun to keep an eye out for them.   Forcing yourself to shut off the constant list-making and calendar review in your mind is a serious gift you can give yourself several times a day.  Sure, a day at the spa would be welcomed. But I think in some ways it’s better to know that I can give myself a calm mind while I’m in the middle of craziness. That, my friend, is true self-care.

 checkout line compassion

This one might not seem to fit at first, but it really does. Promise. Next time you’re standing in line at Trader Joe’s at 6:30, you’re starving thinking it would have been easier to get a pizza but you wanted to try to make a healthy meal (which you know at least one kid is going to pick-at anyway), and then the person in front of you remembers that he forgot to pick up goat cheese and has to go running back to get it – -hence holding up the line and making you wait even longer to make an unappreciated dinner — stop, and try to feel compassion. I know, easier said than done, but honestly- would you rather spend those extra four minutes stewing the collective juices of injustice and anger, or would you rather feel calm and welcoming?

Truth is however you feel about the goat-cheese dash isn’t going to change the situation. It’s certainly not going to teach the guy in front of you any manners. In a moment like this, the only thing that you can control is your own thoughts. One of the quickest ways to turn anger into acceptance is by trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. There could be ten-thousand reasons why you could forgive this person’s thoughtlessness. Ttry thinking of two. Or, try thinking about the person behind the register and how worried she is now that everyone behind this guy is line is going to be nasty because they’re annoyed. Think about how tired she must feel and how much a kind word from you might help. Feeling compassion for other, in many ways, is a selfish act, because when we do this it makes us feel better.

Self-care in the form or caring for others- how cool is that?