/ Sep 04, 2018

Parent Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

Parents Who Practice Self-Care Prepare Teens to Thrive

You deserve to take care of yourself because, well, you deserve it. Each of us has a right to strive towards happiness and to value ourselves. Self-care is an essential part of parenting.

If we thought it was really that easy to gain your commitment to focus on ourselves we could simply end here. Task accomplished. But too many parents have grown to believe that they must sacrifice for their children. For those parents, we remind you that the importance of caring for yourself is among the most important strategies of caring for your children.

Many parents feel conflicted — we are pushed and pulled in so many directions — that we worry we are not doing right by our children. So we sacrifice our own well-being and ultimately judge ourselves by how our kids turn out. If they are successful, we determine our self-sacrifice and choices must have paid off. But setting aside our own well-being in an effort to give more to our children does not help them. Caring for yourself, with the same faithfulness with which you care about your children is anything but a selfish act. It is a strategic act of good parenting.

Here’s why:

  • Parents are models of what healthy adults look like.
  • Young people learn positive coping strategies from their parents.
  • Adolescents care deeply about the well-being of their parents, and feel more secure when they know we are okay.
  • Relationships between parents and teens benefit when parents value their children for who they are and are content with themselves. Teens who feel valued by their achievements alone often feel like products.
  • Young people talk to adults who are settled and calm. They often withhold information from parents they think will become overly upset.
  • Adolescents whose parents live meaningful lives look forward to growing up.
Caring for yourself, with the same faithfulness with which you care about your children is anything but a selfish act. It is a strategic act of good parenting.

Be a Model

We are guides for our children along their journey toward adulthood. There is hardly any way better to guide them than through example. We are the 35, 40, and 50 year-olds they will become. When we show them what healthy, functioning adults look like, they learn how to shape themselves. When we care for ourselves, we make it more likely they will grow to be adults who care for themselves.

Teach Coping Skills

Life is stressful. While there is little we can do to prevent our children from experiencing stress,  there is a tremendous amount we can do to influence how they choose to manage stress. Many worrisome behaviors we fear (drugs, bullying, self-harm) are our adolescents attempt to try and manage stress. These strategies work — at least for a time. They are easy quick fixes for stress. But they can harm us throughout our lives.

We prepare our kids for healthier, safer, richer lives when we equip them with an array of positive coping strategies so that when life gets tough they needn’t turn to destructive strategies. There is no better way to teach those healthy strategies than to model them. We must openly share, rather than preach, the positive choices we make to care for ourselves. By staying healthy, and expressing our emotions, we teach our teens how to thrive through even challenging moments. And, we help ourselves.

Our Teens Care About Us

We give our children a gift when they know that we are well. Even if they occasionally roll their eyes at us or make us park a block away when dropping them off, our teens still care deeply about our well-being. Study after study reveals that young people worry about us and that they feel more secure when they know we are well. So take care of yourself, for the sake of your adolescent.

Our Children are Not Products

So many of us have mixed feelings about the choices we’ve made. If we’ve worked, we feel badly there wasn’t more time for home. If we’ve stayed home, we worry we haven’t modeled how to have a career. Add to this the fact that there are sometimes so many things we need to “manage” in our children’s lives — school, peers, extracurriculars, religious involvement— that we apply the efficiencies of the workplace to our childrearing. This is called the “professionalization of parenting.” We judge our choices and evaluate our “management” skills by how our kids turn out. Achievements. Grades. Scores. Behaviors. This puts tremendous pressure on them in terms of what they produce. It can backfire badly. They need to know that we value them for who they are, not for what they accomplish. Taking a step back, and celebrating who our teens are is good for them, and for your relationship.

We don’t know you. But, we know that you are the kind of parent who cares enough about your tween or teen that you want to learn how to bring your best self to parenting. That may mean you hold yourself to very high standards. The greatest gift we give our children is to enjoy them, and to be content with ourselves, including the choices we have made. Give yourself a break. You’re juggling the best you can. You’ve made the best decisions with the choices you’ve had. Self-care begins with ending self-blame.

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Easy Self-Care Tips

There are many rewarding ways to invest in yourself as a parent. Opportunities range from activities you can do alone or with others. The goal is to choose what makes you feel good. Click through for strategies and suggestions.

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Exercise Regularly

Getting your body moving has plenty of upsides. Exercise improves concentration and helps manage stress.

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Pursue a Hobby

Do an activity simply because it’s fun. Hobbies help reduce tension and boost happiness.

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Compartmentalize Challenges

Break down big problems into smaller, more manageable parts. Face them head on -- just one at a time.

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Give Back to Your Community

Volunteering boosts well-being. It enables you to put aside your troubles and gain needed perspective.

It’s Not What We Ask, It’s What We Know

We all want to protect our children. To do this we need to monitor and guide them. Ultimately, we protect them not by hovering, but by preparing them. How do we monitor our teens best? By knowing what is going on in their lives. Asking them a series of questions (Where are you going? Who will you be with? What will you be doing?) doesn’t always work. It is not what we ask, it is what we know. And what we know depends almost solely on what our children choose to tell us. They do not tell us what is going on in their lives if they think that we will be hurt or experience pain.

Furthermore, adolescents have a tremendous ability to reason and to consider risks. They can have excellent judgement. But this ability may be diminished when they’re feeling particularly emotional. So it’s critical we remain calm and settled as we listen to our tweens and teens.

The best way to stay calm and settled even when the ground seems to be moving beneath your feet, is if you take active steps to care for yourself. Take a break. Restore yourself. Then, be present for your children. The space and time you give yourself will pay off in a better, more communicative relationship.

Make Adulthood Appealing

We are guides along the path to adulthood. We are pro-development — supporting our children’s growth as they launch into adulthood. Part of being pro-development is to guide our teens to have enthusiasm towards progress and to eagerly anticipate their adulthood.

We must make adulthood look attractive. Consider what brings us joy and meaning. Having friendships and romantic lives in addition to our children. Our working lives and volunteer efforts. Our faith. Our hobbies. If it makes adulthood look desirable we must make time for it in our lives. This makes it more likely that our teens will invest in growing up, instead of fearing their development.

So make your life wonderful. Stay healthy. Choose to bounce back from life’s inevitable stressors using life-affirming strategies. Prioritize your adult relationships. Be satisfied with your choices — as imperfect as they are. Care for you for your sake. And for the sake of your child.

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