As parents, we tend to put the needs of our children first, often running ourselves ragged in the process. But is this the right approach or should we be focusing a little bit more on ourselves – in order to care for our kids in the best possible way?
It may sound selfish and might evoke feelings of guilt, but putting yourself first as a parent is important, says Parenting Coach Sheila O’Malley.
Make Yourself the Priority
“As a parent, your number one responsibility is to yourself,” says Sheila. “If you don’t make yourself a priority, you could find yourself getting irritable, tired or stressed. This negatively impacts on your child, as he or she responds to that stress.”
She cites the old adage of the oxygen mask on an airplane. “You have to put on your own mask first, in order to help others with theirs,” she says.
Putting yourself first, says Sheila, is especially important given the increasingly busy and stressful lives we lead.
“We’re struggling to pay mortgages, commuting long distances to work and working longer hours. On top of that, we’re trying to bring up children. It’s therefore essential that we as parents take some time out to unwind and look after our own needs.”
It doesn’t help either that modern-day parenting has become increasingly competitive. Many parents find themselves time-poor because they’re trying to cram too many extracurricular activities into their child’s life. When in fact, it might be better for the child to invest more time and focus into themselves first.
Women Especially Feel Guilty
Women, in particular, are guilty of selfless behaviour and often feel uncomfortable if they put themselves first, for a variety of reasons. “Maybe they haven’t been taught to look after themselves first from an early age,” says Sheila. “Perhaps they’re perfectionists and want to be the best parent possible. They could have a fear of failure or believe they don’t deserve to come first.”
Deal with Your Stress
Stress happens when we stop doing whatever makes us happy, so the simple solution is to make time for ourselves. “You need to ask yourself what it is that makes you happy – both physically and psychologically,” says Sheila.
Our physical needs include eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising for at least 30 minutes per day. Our psychological needs can be met through self-awareness.
“Are you pushing yourself too hard?” says Sheila. “Perhaps you need to learn to say ‘no’ more often, or spend time with a friend, or on a hobby? Maybe you simply need to share a worry? Whatever you need, it’s important to recognise what that is and make it a regular part of your life.”
The result of looking after yourself is that you become happier and this has a knock-on effect on the family, meaning that your children become happier, less stressed and less likely to misbehave.
Spend Quality Time with Your Kids
When you do give them time, make sure it is quality time. “The greatest present you can give to a child is to come home, leave your laptop and your phone aside, talk to them at eye level and just be present with them in that moment,” says Sheila.
“As a parent you need to find the balance between looking after yourself and giving quality time to your child.”
Watch Sheila OMalley’s videos on:
Parenting begins with the parent
Coping with stress as a parent