In the last article I posted, we were talking about the fact that it’s quite normal to feel absolutely exhausted when parenting wounded children, especially when you consider all of the crazy behaviors we are dealing with on a regular basis. We also discussed the importance of self-care in dealing with that exhaustion, as well as the things that become obstacles to us practicing good self care, especially when parenting challenging or wounded children. Today’s obstacle, I believe, is the most damaging, as well as the most pervasive, obstacle to parents feeling free to practice healthy self-care.
Obstacle to Self-Care # 2. We view self-care as selfish and exhaustion as a status symbol.
I found this quote the other day and absolutely love it. It challenged me, and I believe it fits our culture today. Brené Brown said, “If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating rest and play, and we must work to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self worth.” Women in particular are taught to view putting others first and never truly taking care of ourselves as noble and something to work toward. Especially when referring to motherhood, we are led to believe that doing something just for us that doesn’t directly benefit our children is completely selfish. After all, we only have the privilege of parenting these children for so long and then they grow into adults and leave. We applaud this mentality, and on some level, it is true. We do only have the privilege of parenting our children at this level for a time and then they must grow up; however, in the process of parenting our kids we need to teach by example the things we want them to do as adults. Would you want your child to run themselves so ragged that their body begins shutting down? Didn’t think so. Yet we teach them this by example all too frequently.
The problem with this way of thinking is that, even when we take the time to take good care of ourselves, the positive effects sometimes don’t “stick” because we spend the entire time feeling guilty for doing it. Rather than fully allowing ourselves to enjoy the moment and receive the benefit of a stress-reducing (aka: fun) activity, we become more tense, thinking about everything else we SHOULD be doing instead, like how many loads of laundry we need to get done later and what we will be making for dinner. (By the way….we sometimes just need to throw the word “should” out of our vocabularies!).
I am learning that, rather than being selfish, taking good care of myself is the absolute best thing I can do for my children. Why? Like I said before, it gives them an example of healthy adulthood. It teaches them that they, too, are worthy of spending time on themselves, as long as they don’t neglect those around them. It shows them that are loved, because mom and dad care enough to do what they need to do in order to be the best mom and dad they can be (and to have the best marriage they can have). It also helps them understand that, while they are loved, they are not the center of the universe. Sounds mean, but kids absolutely need to know this. Kids need to know that they are important, but that within a family everyone works to make sure that all of the needs are met…not just one member’s needs or wants.
Taking good care of myself actually makes me a better mom. Those times when I am merely running from one crisis to the next, never stopping to take time for myself, I am not as patient and loving with my children as I would like to be (and need to be). Is it better to always put your kids first, only to end up yelling and overreacting to their misbehavior because you are so stressed? Wouldn’t it be better to give some time to yourself and end up being able to deal with those situations in a more healthy manner? This need only escalates as the issues of your child do. Keep in mind that the more extreme the circumstance is, the need for self-care goes even higher.
For the sake of everyone involved, PLEASE throw this extremely damaging philosophy out of the window. Begin to shift your thought process to include your own needs into the mix. Sure, we don’t want to be sitting around, eating bonbons and watching soap operas, while our kids run around screaming and crying. (Although I have to say that bonbons do sound good right now.) We don’t do anyone any good, however, by completely ignoring our own needs and focusing entirely on what our children need. In the end, we do our children a disservice by making their needs so all-encompassing, while our tolerance and patience levels with them decrease. I have found this to be especially true with troubled children. We absolutely have to make time for our own needs in order to give them the love and patience they need.
We will be talking in later articles about more practical or “how-to” issues relating to self care. For now, I really want to provide encouragement to you, the parent, to take this idea of meeting your own needs seriously, as it allows you to better provide for your child’s needs.