For parents, rest is often a tricky, slippery thing. There’s the age-old adage, “sleep when the baby sleeps,” which sounds great in theory, but not so much in practice when there are emails to answer, laundry to put away, and a million other things that are only possible to achieve during those precious, quiet stretches of naptime. And when children are older, houses are very rarely quiet at all. But rest goes beyond napping or closing your eyes, and the definition of rest will always be different for everyone.
Apartment Therapy turned to some busy parents and caretakers to find out how they prioritize their own rest in the midst of their busy schedules, along with how they encourage their equally busy children to slow down and rest too. Ahead, check out some of their tips — and remember, rest is just as crucial for your mind as it is for your body.
What constitutes rest, anyway?
Like anything else, rest looks and feels different for everyone because everyone has different needs. But for the most part, it’s common to view rest as any activity that leads to feeling recharged. As Kate, a mother of two and yoga instructor explains, “Rest, to me, is something that feels restorative, rejuvenating, or nourishing in some physical, mental, or emotional way.”
For Kara Nesvig, a freelance writer and mother who lives in Minnesota, there’s an important ingredient for her rest: having alone time. “Being a parent is a lot of being touched, needed, and wanted — and while I love that, I also like to be by myself,” she says, adding that her restful activities are always changing, and might include taking a bath, reading a book on her patio, or even working out. “Over the past five months, I’ve also gotten really into exercise and have found that I feel so much more alive and recharged after a challenging spin class or weights workout, which was a big surprise to me,” she says. “So sometimes rest is exercise!”
A key component of rest is removing external stressful stimuli, while also trying to shut out any thoughts that might create anxiety or worry. Taylor Grothe describes rest as the ability to “unhook her brain” and take some time for herself. Grothe, who lives in Connecticut with her partner and two daughters, pointed out that the job of being a parent never stops. “Anytime I can just sit and not worry about the state of my small humans… is restful.”
Similarly, Nesvig shares that she opts to unplug during restful activities to minimize distractions. “Rest is taking the dog for a long walk without Slack notifications or checking my email,” she saya. “Rest is making dinner or doing 15-20 minutes of stretching at the end of the day. It’s also going to bed, turning off phone alerts, and reading a book until I fall asleep.”
Why advocating for rest matters
Sneaking in chunks of rest can be difficult for anyone, and for parents or caretakers with nonstop schedules, it can sometimes feel nearly impossible. Jennifer Camiccia, a mother of four and grandmother, tells Apartment Therapy that it’s important to learn how to accept help. “If someone offered to take my kids, I would gladly say yes,” she reflects.
Camiccia, who lives in California and is also a caretaker for her elderly in-laws, pointed out that it’s also crucial to schedule relaxing activities into your day. “If rest isn’t built into that plan in advance, you might find yourself depleted and exhausted,” she says. “I’ve felt this way too many times to count, so I learned to listen to my body and my emotions.”
For Dan, a father of two from North Carolina, advocating for that alone time is key. “The best thing my wife and I do is try to be honest when we need to take time for ourselves, even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes, and the other one is with the kids,” he says. “Obviously it’s not always possible to do this, but we try to give each other little breaks whenever we can.”
But it’s important to bear in mind that rest doesn’t have to be a big event — nor does it need to take a long time at all. And with busy schedules, sometimes little chunks of rest can also be valuable, as Kate has learned. “I try not to wait for big windows of rest,” she says. “Instead, I try to incorporate small pockets of rest into my day. I’ll flip through a magazine or do some gentle yoga stretches while my kids are playing next to me.”
It’s time to banish rest-associated guilt once and for all
If you’ve ever felt guilty for resting, you’re definitely not alone. A “hustle”-obsessed culture (not to mention a capitalist society) can trick people into thinking that rest is unproductive — but that’s actually not the case at all. Rest helps keep your body healthy and ready to tackle whatever busy schedule tomorrow might bring.
As MK Pagano, an author and mother from New Jersey puts it, “I’m of no use to anyone, least of all myself, if I don’t get enough sleep.” Pagano, who is expecting another child next month, pointed out that lack of sleep and rest has negatively affected her health in the past, so it’s rare that she’ll prioritize work over taking care of her body. “I’ve learned to set firm boundaries when it comes to work,” she says, adding, “Protecting my time and my health is more important to me. ”
Similarly, Camiccia says that she’s “learned the hard way” what happens to her body when she doesn’t prioritize rest. “I’ve suffered with migraines since I was ten, and a huge trigger for me is stress,” she says, explaining that she builds time into her day to either read or go outside and enjoy nature to keep her stress levels low.
But it can be challenging to put one’s well-being first. Grothe admitted that prioritizing her rest is something that she struggles with, describing it as “a balancing act.” However, she knows that rest is valuable, and she uses a variety of self-talk to encourage herself to recharge without worrying about other things that need to get done. “The house will eventually be clean, and doesn’t need to be right now,” she explains. “Sitting outside [or reading a book] helps me broker inner peace, so that I can be a better mom.”
The busiest members of any packed household might be the children themselves. Daily schedules can be filled with school or daycare, activities like ballet lessons or sports, camp, vacations — the list goes on. Rest, then, can and should be a family affair, one that’s modeled and encouraged for all ages.
Just as she builds rest into her own day, Pagano makes sure it’s part of her three-and-a-half year old daughter’s as well. “I implemented a schedule and a routine for bedtime, naptime, and sleep, and used things like white noise and blackout curtains,” she says. “It seemed to work; my daughter has always been a good sleeper.”
For older children, rest can be more activity-based — and away from the distractions of screens. “All my kids love nature,” Camiccia reflects of her now-grown children. “Going on hikes, watching the sunset, going to the beach are all ways they relax. I was always a big believer in having quiet time to read without phones or the television constantly on and I think that helped as well.”
Like most learned behaviors, rest can be habit-building, and parents have the opportunity to mold the way children view and prioritize the concept. Grothe hopes her daughters will understand that rest is something people choose, plan for, and prioritize.
“Rest is an active thing,” she says. “It’s a real part of the day.”