Being a parent is a joy but it IS hard. In the past, parenting as part of life skills was not taught at school. It is getting talked about more, but most of us still become parents without a lot of coaching or education about what to do and what not to do. Parenting is a huge responsibility . Parents shape their child’s brain and teach them every day whether they realize it or not, how that child sees themselves, sees others, sees life and see love. Everyone will tell you parenting is hard work, detailing the laundry list of tasks and responsibilities you’ll have to take care of. But here’s what a lot of people fail to mention; you have to keep being a person on top of caring for your wee ones.
It seems like common sense. But, in bracing for the trials and tribulations of parenting, many people fail to consider that they have to take care of both themselves and their children. Your mouth still needs feeding. You still need to sleep. You still need to find time for your own joy and self-care. Your wellbeing isn’t meant to be tossed aside in the face of parental obligation. In fact, this martyr-like dismissal of your own needs is counterproductive; if you’re not taking care of yourself, you risk having an unhealthy impact on your kids. On airplanes the security demonstration ALWAYS includes something like this; ‘ If you’re traveling with a young child and the oxygen in the cabin drops, please be sure to place the oxygen mask on yourself first! So make sure you are eating, sleeping, exercising and leisuring regularly. That includes feeding your relationship as a couple not just as parents; …one date a week. Hire the babysitter otherwise you could be hiring the couple’s therapist later,… the divorce lawyer later!
As a parent, part of the job is managing your stress – for your wellbeing and that of your kids. Humans are gifted mimics. It’s how we learn to do most things, right down to eating and walking and speaking and thinking and feeling.. If your children are learning to do these things by observing you, you can bet that’s not the only behaviour they’re copying. They will internalize the way you manage stress, anxiety, and conflict. Furthermore, they will emulate it. You are their first and most important role model, and your children will inherit the way you navigate life’s hardships. It may not be as overt as “parent yells when they’re angry, so child yells when they’re angry.”
Often the opposite reactions will develop; the parent’s yelling makes the child fearful and introverted in the face of conflict, trying to avoid making someone raise their voice. It’s important that you learn to process your feelings in a healthy way so they can follow that example. Parents are responsible for gaining the trust of their children, giving them an appropriate level of control, facilitating a healthy sense of themselves and helping them form a clear identity. This requires you to manage your stress so that you in the optimal position to hear, validate, problem solve, negotiate, and empower your children. What they learn from you sets the tone for what they take away from other people. It’s good for parents to have a good stress management strategy of discharging, soothing or distracting from their stress and have a way to live consciously so they can understand and deal effectively with the triggers they have when their child acts a certain way. ( The biggest mirrors we get to our unresolved “stuff’ comes firstly from our romantic partners, with a very close second coming from our children)!.
It is common for parents to use therapists to navigate through this developmental stage in their lives, especially when their children hit ages when the parent experienced some pain of some kind to make connections and work out a better way to respond. This not only helps the child but helps the parent deeper down!
You may be your children’s first role model, but you certainly won’t be their only role model. Sooner than you realize, they will be learning behaviours from teachers, siblings, and other people’s kids. When that happens, having them start out on the right foot when it comes to learning emotional intelligence and having a secure attachment with you will be the most important asset they have. It also gives you a strong base to work from when you have to explain why, for example, bullying people until they cry isn’t okay, even if many people behave as though it is. What they learn from you is their foundation and frame of reference for sorting through other input.
All this to say… you have to be smart about taking care of yourself. You may have entered parenthood without much experience in managing your stress, your feelings, and the unconscious, deep wounds you weren’t necessarily aware of. But it’s never too late to learn. Read, research, discuss with friends, and speak with professionals. The more skills you acquire for dealing with your baggage, the better (and sooner) you can equip your kids with the same. And once you’ve learned these new skills, remember that knowledge has to be more than theoretical. It does no good to tell your kids to behave one way, and then do the opposite thing yourself. Walk the walk, for your sake and for theirs. This is the best way you can equip your children to live healthily and happily – by virtue of their own actions. These are the gifts that keep on giving for a lifetime.