Foundations for Mental Health,  Let's Chat Over Lunch,  Self Care

Self Care While Your Kids Are Sick (or during other unexpectedly hard weeks)

On Sunday evening, we were having a lovely meal and game night with one of our favorite families. They had invited us to come over a couple of times over the past month, but it hadn’t worked out for various reasons. I was so happy that we were finally having this fun evening together, when my 5-year old walked up to me and whispered, “My tummy hurts. I think I might throw up.” Of course, we made it only halfway to the bathroom before his dinner came up all over the shiny hardwood floors (so very happy it wasn’t carpet, though!).

That was how my week started. The night that followed was a long night, with hourly calls for help from my little one. He went back to school on Wednesday, but by then my daughter had joined in on the fun. She had a much lighter case, but she stayed home from school that day.

I have been reflecting on self care a lot lately, so my question this week was: what does self care look like on a week like this?

Here are a few thoughts…

Welcome the Gifts of These Moments

When our regular routine gets disrupted by illness or other unexpected needs, our whole focus changes. We have to adjust our plans. The to do list we already made gets scratched out, and a whole new list of more urgent to-dos replace it. We cannot go through our day on autopilot, we are forced to “wake up,” to be present, and to notice our surroundings.

These times are filled with frustrations, disappointments, and plenty of things to complain about. We are often left exhausted by less sleep and stressed by what we have to cancel or left undone. But, if we shift our focus, we can also find beautiful gifts and simple joys that may get lost in the hustle and bustle of regular life.

For me, it is a matter of shifting into a mindset of welcoming and being present with what comes. I cannot simply do what I always do, I have to notice more, listen more, and usually pray more. Making the shift into welcoming helps me to feel happy to be one there caring for my sick child instead of feeling mad about the extra work or fearful about what else may happen.

I can let go of my other plans more easily and welcome a quiet moment holding my child, reading stories together, or playing together – all things I would not have had much time for on a regular day. This is really a more feminine – receptive – mindset, and I find it fits me well. Somehow, meaning and connection flourish more easily for me in this mode than in a task-oriented one. There are unexpected gifts and beauty, if I’ll have the eyes to see them.

Prioritize Sleep

Sleep is a baseline need for all of us, and we must prioritize it even more on the hard weeks. Again, this may require canceling plans or letting the house devolve into messiness or even the dreaded “asking for help.” Trust me, sleep is worth it.

Remember the saying for new mommas: “Sleep when the baby sleeps”? The same goes for a week like this – take your opportunities for sleep and rest during hard days and weeks – you’ll have time for your to do list later.

Getting sleep means a greater capacity to be relational, it means increased immunity, and it means a better ability to handle stress. You need this right now (more than you need order and a clean house – and I know you need those, too!). At the very least, forego Netflix, turn off your phone, and get to bed at a decent hour.

Do your own Immune Support

Care for yourself by nourishing and supporting your body. When we’re caring for other people, taking care of our own health needs can feel like “one more thing.” We can easily crave sweets to satisfy our need for dopamine, which gives us that feeling of reward for our hard work.

I’m not telling you to give up eating (reasonably healthy) sweets every now and then. What I am saying is, don’t give in to the urge to “give up” and eat junk food and stop taking care of yourself on weeks like this. Instead, find ways throughout your day to nourish your body and support your immune system.

Teas are a great way to do this, because they support your immune system and they feel comforting. Take immune support supplements (read more here). Eat simple but nutrient dense foods like soups with bone broth or green smoothies.

Practice Letting Things Go (Stop Listening to the Ideal Woman)

I mention Alison Armstrong and her amazing team at Pax Programs fairly often, because they have given me so much transformational information about myself and my relationships. One thing Alison taught me was about how women usually compare themselves to an “ideal woman.”

When they feel like they come up short (with parenting, housecleaning, career, whatever…), women tend to think of how an “ideal” woman would have done it better. For instance, the ideal woman would have kept up with the dishes, gotten to bed on time, slept on the floor beside her sick child, been more patient with her other children, etc. Your expectations and standards will be different depending on your own values and perspective on life.

If you are like me and constantly compare yourself to your own internal standards of what an ideal woman would do, weeks like this are a great time to practice letting go of that stuff. Just think “Is that something I really need to do, or is that the ideal woman talking?” Allow yourself, to weed through and choose to do what is a priority or what is important for your own self care, and then take a deep breath and let the rest go.

A Good Week?

This is honestly how I got through the past week. There were rough, gross, and trying moments, but there were also some really sweet ones. And, I really did get back to my to do list and achieve a reasonably clean house when the kids went back to school (the ideal woman is always trying to convince me I should do it now or everything will spin out of control). And, I’m a little surprised at myself, but I might even say it was a pretty good week in the end.

I’d love to know: What works for you during days/weeks/months with sick children or unexpected setbacks? Comment below or send me an email at

My name is Candace McCallister. I am the founder of Sweet Water Offering, a holistic health enterprise to support women and families to heal naturally. My background is in biology, counseling, bodywork, and nutrition. My husband and I are helping to start an intentional Christian community in Little Rock, AR. We have three lively and beautiful children.