My College:
Family Life

S.E.L.F. Care for College Parents

Deborah Porter

For many of us, self-care is a special event, a massage, a mani/pedi or a day at the spa. Welcomed experiences for sure and definitely something we look forward to.

However, reducing self-care to events and experiences that happen occasionally or outside of our home runs the risk of the importance and priority being very low.

Think of it this way: What if the only time you ate a meal was on a holiday and away from home? Or the only time for meaningful conversations with friends and family occurred when in need? Well, this is how we treat self-care. Like a birthday or Mother’s Day gift.

Using S.E.L.F. as our acronym, let’s dive into what self-care can and should be on a daily basis.


Far too many of us are normalizing lack of sleep. Sleep Foundation studies have shown that prolonged periods of little sleep (less than seven hours a night for adults) can contribute to a compromised immune system, hormonal abnormalities and mental health issues.

Remember the time you spent educating your soon-to-be college student about getting enough sleep? Suggesting they turn off their screens late at night, monitor their caffeine intake and not stay up into the wee hours trying to finish the assignment they procrastinated about?

Well, it’s not that much different for us. The same rules apply if we want to improve our sleep habits.

One thing I’ve added to my nighttime routine is a brain dump. I keep a notepad and pen by my bed and, just before turning out the light, I take all of those lingering thoughts and dump them into this notebook (or occasionally a voice memo on my phone). This provides a place for all of the to-do lists, that otherwise swim around in my head at night, to live.


The prospect of exercise may not be the thing that brings a smile to your face each day. Most of us know the benefits of exercise and really do mean to do it more regularly. The issue is that life gets in the way.

So how do we add this necessary component of a healthy lifestyle to our days? In bite-sized pieces if need be.

Finding an hour or two to work out may not be realistic, but what about a 15-minute walk before coffee (okay, after coffee)? How about a 15-second plank every morning, increasing the duration by five seconds each day until we arrive at a 60-second plank?

Start somewhere. The important thing — start.


Freely giving and expressing love feels good, for the giver and the receiver. What about when you are both? How do you express self-love? In other words, how do you talk to yourself about yourself?

One way to show love to yourself is through positive affirmations. Speak to yourself about yourself the way you would speak about your best girlfriend.


Settling on just one practice for “F” was challenging. Let's look at each of these because they are each valuable in their own way.

Starting with FUN, the question is simple. When was the last time you had a cheek-hurting, bellyaching laugh that brought you to tears? The type of laughter you remember from childhood?

Psychologist Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., CNS says, "Play, although it may look different for adults, gives the mind freedom to explore and work through uncomfortable feelings and experiences and can also serve as a beneficial distraction."

When we slow down and are more mindful, we reduce stress. Beurkens suggests “taking in the things that bring us joy in the smallest of ways throughout our day.” As moms we often see fun as a time robber. It is not.

The second “F” is for FUEL. How are you fueling and feeding your body? I love pizza and chocolate, probably more than most. However, at this stage in life, the diet of a college student will not serve me well. With that in mind, proper supplements and trading fries for a salad is my normal practice.

Last but not least, how are we processing our FEELINGS? Many of us suppress our feelings, and as a result we often eat them or maybe even drink them instead of actually feeling them.

So allow yourself to feel what you’re experiencing. It’s okay to be angry, sad or even mad. Remember, we can’t go around, over or under our feelings. We must go through them and feel them to move on.

As our schedules get busy again and our calendars start to fill in, sometimes the goal is to just get through the day. Take a few minutes, two or three times a day, and check in with yourself. How you’re feeling, how you’re processing, what your stressors are.

Perhaps there’s a difficult conversation you have to have with someone that you’ve been avoiding. Think through what you’re feeling and give words to it. Skipping that step may make a difficult conversation much worse than it needs to be.

During every year and every season, including when our children leave for college and we transition to an empty (or emptier) nest, we have an opportunity to reset and do things differently.

Choose to make yourself a priority. If that means writing time for yourself on your own calendar, then do it. Be sure to use ink, not pencil! If getting to bed at a decent hour means dishes are left in the sink, it really is okay. Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s required.

Deborah Porter is The Ultimate Mom Coach — a life balance coach for dedicated moms who need home management systems and a self-care routine that goes beyond a good mani/pedi. She and her husband have three adult children and she believes that the woman you were before having kids still matters. Deborah is a regular contributor to "Virginia This Morning" on WTVR. Download her free ebook, "7 Habits of Confident Moms"!
Find Your University

Don't Miss Out!

Get engaging stories and helpful information all year long. Join our college parent newsletter!