“Usually our ideas of self-care are something you do, child-free, to care for yourself. But what if this form of self-care isn’t possible? Self care can be as simple as taking deep breaths while you are sitting with a screaming child. Having a cup of tea while you read your child a book… I really like this idea of self-care because it doesn’t make having kids and self-care mutually exclusive. I do go out to dance classes and yoga on my own, but when I can’t or don’t, I crank the music loud at home and do my own dance class.” – Deborah Purcell
The #1 Resolution of parents everywhere? Be more patient. But having to summon up your patience is a signal that your cup is already dangerously empty. Will-power only takes us so far. The real job is keeping your cup full so you can handle the inevitable little disasters of daily life, when your child falls off the swing or poops on the floor or bashes his brother.
Self-care is essential not only to remain patient, but also to experience the joy and delight that is present — not always noticed — in every day with our children, even the tough ones (days and kids!).
Children love our joyful presence. They respond by becoming happier and more cooperative. By contrast, when we’re stressed, children feel like it must be their fault, and assume they’re not good enough. They get anxious, or defiant.
No matter what our child does, it’s our response that determines the weather in our home. If you’re finding yourself frequently resentful, depleted or exhausted, if your mind chatter often includes negative thoughts about your child, or if you’re yelling at your child on a regular basis, you may be suffering from what I call SAP Disorder — Sacrificing yourself on the Altar of Parenthood.
That’s when we forget to give ourselves the loving attention we need. It isn’t good for us to feel deprived. It kills our natural joy. And it isn’t good for our kids, who end up with a resentful, negative, impatient parent. (Guess whether that helps them behave better.)
Does that mean you should tell your child she can forget about getting her needs met, that it’s about time your needs came first? No, of course not. Parenting is about nurturing your child, which means noticing what she needs and trying to make sure she gets it.
But we can only be the parents we want to be if we learn how to parent ourselves. So monitoring our own moods, and returning ourselves to a state of feeling good — or at least calm — is one of the most important responsibilities of parenting.
That can seem impossible, when at any given moment there are so many demands on your time. The solution is to tend to ourselves as well as we can each moment of the day, just as we do our child. To honor both our needs and theirs. How?
- Make it a habit to tune into yourself as often as possible throughout your day.; Just take a deep breath and let it flood your body with well-being. Breathe in calm, breathe out stress. Imagine you’re breathing into your heart. Noticing your breath helps you be more present with yourself, an essential form of “attention” that we all need.
- Every time you notice you’re getting resentful or irritable, stop.Ask yourself “What do I need right now to stay in balance?” Then, give it to yourself — whether your child is there or not. (Five minutes to sit on the back steps and listen to the birds? A glass of water? Five minutes of dancing?)If you can’t do it right now, make a date with yourself for later. (A bath after the kids go to bed. Trading shoulder massages with your partner. More sleep tonight.)
- Notice the challenging times of day and find ways to nurture yourself through them. It’s your life, and you’re in charge, whether it feels that way or not. Letting yourself feel victimized doesn’t help your kids. For example, does bedtime drive you crazy? Make a plan to make it better, whether that’s sharing more responsibility with your partner, starting earlier, posting a schedule with photos that you make with your kids, getting more sleep yourself, or enjoying a cup of tea while you read to your child.
- Consciously parent yourself.Did you know that it’s your job to be your own parent? If you’re old enough to have a child yourself, your parents are off the hook. It’s your responsibility now. Talk to yourself like someone you love. Nurture yourself through the hard times. Acknowledge all your efforts in the right direction. No, you’re not perfect. You don’t need to be. You deserve all the tenderness you would shower on a newborn baby. Giving that love to yourself will open your heart — and transform your parenting.
- Be more present and don’t postpone joy. Soak in the beauty and happiness of every moment you can. Stop rushing and revel in your child’s laughter, the sweet smell of his hair, her joy in mastering something new. “Smelling the roses” is what makes parenting worth all the headaches. It replenishes your spirit. It inspires your children to connect and cooperate. And it cures SAP disorder.
Dr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How To Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends For Life and Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. Find her online at AhaParenting.com