You know those airline safety announcements where they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before your child’s?
There’s a reason they do that. Without us making sure we are safe first, we can’t guarantee the safety of our child. If they pass out, you can protect them. If you pass out, they cannot help you.
Being a parent isn’t just about giving your child everything they need all the time. It isn’t just about telling them to brush their teeth more. It isn’t just about giving them all the right answers, or making sure they’re doing their homework. It isn’t just about encouraging them to ask questions and explore their world, telling them they can do whatever they put their mind to – though these are all wonderful, beautiful things. Being a parent is about being who you are. That’s who your child needs you to be.
Children need safety and security more than anything. They need to know, “I’m okay. Mom and Dad have got this. I can play and explore, and be everything I want, because I know I’m safe. I don’t need to worry.”
When they don’t know what to do in a situation, they look to you and wonder, “How is mom going to act here? What does she believe is important in the world? What are her priorities? How does Dad see himself? What does he care about?”
It’s the old classic line: do as I say, not as I do. We want the best for our children, because we love them. And we will make tremendous sacrifices to that end, which is an incredible testament to human love and attachment.
But, if we lose ourselves in the process, we can’t be the answers our children desperately need. We need to learn to take care of ourselves before our kids will internalize how important self-care is. Want your kids to brush their teeth at night? Brush alongside them. Care about your own health; not because you’re supposed to but because you genuinely believe that you’re worth taking care of (because you are!).
To be who you are means taking time for yourself. Time to rest, to reflect, to have fun, to connect with people you care about, to sort out what you believe about the world, to exercise – to learn and grow. To make yourself better and happier. Take a painting or cooking or music class if that’s what you’re into, even (actually, especially) if it feels like the world would end if you took just an hour for yourself. Go get a massage, or rehab for that old sports injury that’s been getting you down. If all of this seems like a fairy tale, I’d love to sit down and have a chat with you about it sometime. Parental guilt gets in the way of self-care a lot – and we give in. We say things like, “I can’t do that because my kid needs me,” or, “I can’t go get a massage because that’s selfish,” and more. What we model to our kids, and the resources we equip ourselves with matter.
When your kids see their parents loving themselves, they will love themselves too. They will grow up believing they’re worth something, just because we, who believe we are worth something, care so deeply about them.
Lastly, when you make time for yourself to grow, recover, and rest, the time you spend with your child, your partner, and your friends and family will be of such better quality. You will have more to give in that time. Even if the world is falling down around you, you will be able to cope better with that stress. If you’re the type who likes hard evidence for this type of stuff, I’d encourage you to check out the work of Dr. Dan Siegel, or check out this playlist of TED talks about the importance of self-care.
One other thing to remember, this is a lifelong journey – it’s not a quick fix. But taking the first few steps toward taking better care of yourself, or even just towards believing that you’re worth caring about – those are some of the best steps you can take. You will be really, really glad you did, and your kids will be better for it!
We know this is hard to do as parents, if we can be of any help as you walk through this, please give us a call, we’d love to help!
If you’d like to learn more, email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.