As parents - with kids to raise, jobs to work and dishes to wash - we often forget to make time for ourselves. Yet sometimes focusing too much on our children isn’t the healthiest choice for families. Not taking time for ourselves can undermine our efforts to be the best possible parent we can be.
“It is important for parents to find things they can do that can help them de-stress. If that means finding time to go for a walk, getting up an hour before everyone else in the house to have some alone time or engaging in a hobby for a few hours a week, then the parent should try to do that. When a parent is happy, especially mothers, it often sets the tone for the rest of the household,” says Erin Boyd-Soisson, associate professor of human development at Messiah College.
Why not ring in the New Year with a goal of nurturing your own well-being? With hidden benefits and an easy action plan, it’s a straightforward change to make.
Teach kids to be self-sufficient
Many parents strive to teach kids how to be independent. And guess what? It starts with the parents. Part of parenting is showing children what it means to be a content adult. If your life is in balance, you are more likely to be a loving and courteous member of the family. You can teach a child that it is all right for you to be away from them, that they can be safe with a baby-sitter or family member taking care of them. For a child, establishing safe and trusting relationships outside of parental bonds can help enhance their self-esteem.
“In the name of love, we intervene too often in our children’s welfare. New research suggests that making your kids the centre of your life may seem child-friendly, but we don’t even realize that the love we give our kids has become tainted with neediness. This hampers the natural weaning process, and our children pay a huge price for that. If we want to reduce our kids’ anxiety and promote self-reliance, we actually need to pay more attention to our spouses, relatives and friends,” says David Code, family coach, Episcopal priest and author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First.
Improve your relationships
A marriage, or any loving relationship between adults, exhibits to children what a happy and beneficial relationship looks like. If you are in a partnership, take care of it by spending time with the one you love and remaining interested in the dreams and ambitions of your partner. Putting children before a marriage can cause cracks in a relationship, which can cause unintended pain for children, without parents realizing it.
How can you shine the spotlight back on adult relationships? Start small. Little things, daily showings of affection from notes to texts can bring big advantages. Build up to finding a day, or a weekend, to spend with your spouse sans children. If it is too much to plan a weekend away, make sure to connect at home, even if it means a monthly night of staying up after the kids are in bed to talk about interests beyond parenting. The bottom line is, romantic relationships need tending to. Strengthening adult relationships is essential. So, with love and kindness, care for your relationship, whether you are married or have a significant other. It is necessary in providing your child with stability.
If you are single, invest time to cultivate a circle of encouraging friends. Friends help us laugh, relax and are a great resource to discuss future plans with. These bonds also provide children with a demonstration of what supportive, trusting adult relationships can look like.
Be a better parent
I know, this goes against our parental desire to give and provide, but sometimes being a good parent means being a happy human being. If you are burned out, you’ll be unable to contribute energy and happiness to your family.
“It is hard to help others [our children] fulfill their needs when we aren’t fulfilling our own. It does nobody any good when a parent is stressed out. We know that parents are more punitive and less sensitive to their children when they are stressed,” continues Boyd-Soisson.
It’s important to be involved as a parent, to know what is happening at school, help with homework and assist a child in pursuing extracurricular interests. But remember, you are also, each day, modeling what it means to be an adult. Being an adult is more than being a parent. Take time to pursue your own interests, exercise your body and challenge your mental capabilities. Allow your children to see you active with friends, hobbies and using vocabulary words that are long, intelligent and inspirational. It sounds simple, but take care of yourself. Eat well; get your eight hours of sleep a night to allow yourself to be rested and ready to enjoy each day.
Explore the benefits - for yourself and your family - of focusing on your own happiness
Action Plan 1 - Is there a class you’ve always wanted to take? A project you’d like to start? Allow yourself the opportunity to pursue your own dreams alongside helping your children with theirs. Do it for yourself. You deserve it.
Action Plan 2 - Create a date night with your spouse or plan a day out with a group of friends. Check out the latest movie or grab a snack at the new trendy bistro. Establish hobbies or interests with others and then pursue it together; go running with a friend or challenge your spouse to a game of Scrabble.
Action Plan 3 - Establish a safe and trustworthy support system. If you have a baby-sitter you trust, give yourself permission to use them. Exchange baby-sitting nights with another family to open up evenings. Or, if you prefer to have family help, set up an exchange of support, baby-sitting for yard work, for example, or an afternoon of running errands.
Mali writes about art, culture and parenting. She lives with her husband and seven-year-old daughter, Ivy.
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