Self-CARE is NOT Self-ISH !

by denny hagel on February 20, 2011

Contrary to certain parenting beliefs of past generations, taking care of yourself is not self-ish, in fact, practicing the art of self-care is one of the most important things you can do for your child’s emotional health.
How many of you have been conditioned to believe that a “good” parent is someone who sacrifices their every need and what is important to them for the benefit and well-being of their children?
When faced with your child's needs or wants that conflict with your own needs or wants do you experience a horrible inner tug of war that sends a wave of guilt over you that is so powerful you find the easiest thing to do is to let go of your desire?
Or have you come to see this as an act of unconditional love and with pride find yourself boasting that there is nothing you wouldn’t do for your children?
If any of this resonates with you, I caution you to understand that when you neglect yourself and your needs, not only are you robbing yourself of necessary self-care but you are sending a message to your children that you are not worthy, not important, and not deserving.
The way we treat ourselves teaches others how to treat us.
Before I go any further, I would like to clarify that I am not referring to truly selfish acts that put the well-being of children in jeopardy and that are only appropriate for a non-parent lifestyle. I am talking about the needs that we all have that serve to nurture our spirit and refuel our energy to be the best parent we can be.
With that being said, parents are the primary source of information for their children. If your children do not witness you placing value on your needs, they will not see your needs as having value. If your children do not see that you matter to yourself, they will not feel that your needs matter.
Because you are the primary significant person in your children's lives, they will learn from you and from your attitude how to treat others and subsequently how they want to be treated by others.
I remember when I adopted my daughter, Cally,not quite 2 weeks old. I had waited five long years to become a Mom. The abundance of joy and excitement I felt toward the fact that my long anticipated journey of parenting had finally begun caused me to allow Cally’s every need and want to completely override everything else in my life.
I had always owned and enjoyed horses and belonged to a group that took a two to three hour trail ride in the mountains in our neighborhood each week. Most of the women in the group were mothers and had a standing babysitting appointment with a very qualified woman to take care of their children while the group spent the afternoon riding. Understandably, for the first few months after Cally was born, I bowed out and did not participate. At the same time, I pulled out of the two hour weekly volunteering I did at the local schools mentoring parents of children diagnosed with ADD and ADHD.
Of course everyone was totally supportive of my "leave of absence". They knew that being a Mother had been such a long awaited dream. However, as it turned out, what began as a temporary "leave of absence" turned into a two year span. I just couldn't bring myself to leave Cally's side…not even for the end of the day bubble-bath that I had religiously enjoyed every night since I was 16 years old. I was afraid that Cally might wake up or cry out for me and it would take too long for me to get myself out of the tub and go to her. A quick shower seemed to make more sense…

By the time my daughter was about 2 1/2 yrs old, I noticed that she had become extremely demanding…she was showing signs of being ungrateful. As she got a bit older, her attitude was one of “entitlement”.
Upon seeing the disastrous path my good intentions were leading us on, my dear mother sat me down one day and in her straight-shooting no holds-barred mannerism said. “Denny, you are not doing right by Cally or yourself.” She told me in no uncertain terms that by not giving her someone to consider other than herself, I was in effect teaching her by example that what I wanted or needed or anyone else around her wanted or needed simply was not important.
My mother went on to explain that when I pushed aside what was important to me and continuously let her desires come first, I was creating a situation that would eventually be emotionally unhealthy for Cally. She said, “If the answer is never no she will never learn to appreciate when the answer is yes”.
This really confused me. In a way, what my mother had said went against my understanding of the importance in allowing my daughter to find her own way and learn through experiences what her preferences were. I had been raised to always value a child’s desire to explore and to honor them by supporting their individual choices.
However, through my discussion with my mother I came to understand that there was a fine line between honoring Cally’s desires and neglecting mine. I could see that both could be accomplished without squashing her spirit.
I began by purposely stating my feelings and desires. For example, while discussing what we were about to do, rather than saying “Would you like to read or play a game or watch a movie?” I would say, “Let’s choose what we will do today. Here are our choices…read, play a game or watch a movie. I would like to read, how about you?” By stating my preference, she had something else to think about in addition to what she would like.
Then, after she voiced her preference, I would occasionally say, “Well, I understand you would rather play a game, but I think today I would like to read because I have been really looking forward to this story. We can play a game tomorrow.”
This was said in a loving, but matter of fact tone that told her my desire mattered just as much as hers…
Voicing my needs, wants and preferences was a bit confusing to Cally for awhile, but I knew that my mother was right. Eventually, Cally took the role of initiating our afternoon activities and would frequently begin by stating the options and then saying, “Which would you like to do Mom?”
I began to experiment by leaving Cally with my mother for a short time and just going to the store alone. As this became more familiar to her, I felt more comfortable leaving her with other trusted people and was able to return to my volunteer work and even horse-back riding. As much as I had longed to become a mother and cherished my role as Cally's parent, I easily saw the huge impact spending this short amount of time each week just for me had on my overall attitude and disposition.
By paying attention to what filled my "bank of joy" outside my role of motherhood and taking just a small amount of time each week to care for myself and honor my needs, I felt more of a balance in my life. I felt more complete and closer to who I was.
Our children look to us for guidance in every area of their development. It is our role as a parent to be alert and aware and willing to take responsibility for the information, ideas, attitudes and beliefs that our children receive from us.

Carl Jung, renowned psychologist, stated it quite clearly:
“If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.”

In order to help you, I have created a FREE e-book
"Becoming an Awakened Parent".
It's never too early or too late to fine-tune your parenting skills. To give your children … and yourself … the gift of healthy boundaries, accept my gift by signing in RIGHT NOW!"
Denny Hagel is a child advocate and parenting coaching, devoting over 25 years to the success and well being of all children. She is the published author of over 50 articles on parenting, several of which have attracted international attention, and is a contributor to the parenting section of "The Infinite Field Magazine".
Denny was blessed with forward thinking parents who raised her to live according to the principles of the law of attraction long before it became a household term. Subsequently she has purposefully studied and practiced the law of attraction for the last fifteen years. Her formal education was in early childhood education, psychology, and substance abuse.
She is the founder of Awakened Parenting LLC, and created the discussion group "Awakened Parenting Discussion Forum" on Face Book. She does on line coaching with parents and teachers who consult her on a regular basis. Denny collaborates with counselors, authors, coaches and others working with parenting and the law of attraction. Denny Hagel is the author of "Mini-Me Syndrome", “Parenting Using the Law of Attraction” and “Becoming an Awakened Parent".
  • Anonymous

    According to Dr. Louann Brizendine in “The Female Brain,” it’s all that oxytocin and other hormones that cause what she calls “mommy brain.” But it’s so easy to go overboard in the desire to nurture and protect … and lose all sense of healthy boundaries. Great article!

  • Lily

    Thank you Denny. And I’m also now working on not confusing taking care of my business with self-care, something I’d let myself fall into for a few years out of guilt of being away from my family, quite frankly!

  • Amity Hook-Sopko

    Gosh, Denny – this is spot on. I love how your mom helped you realize how to correct it when your daughter was still very young.

    When my son was just a few months old, we visited with some family friends who had preteens. The mom kept telling us to enjoy him while he was a baby, because “when they grow up, they never listen to you.” She whined on and on about how they don’t respect her.

    I was sitting there thinking… she doesn’t have any respect for herself. It was sad, but a powerful lesson for us as new parents.

    Really love what you’re doing to help parents. Keep it up :)

  • Naomi

    Totally agree. I cannot look after my chidlren is the way I want to if I dont feel great or am run down. I need to sleep and eat well so my parenting is how I want it to be. Time out for mums and dads is also important. We need to have al ife outside of our family and our children to keep us sane and to keep our interests and other relationships going.

  • Claudia Looi

    So true Denny. There are s0oo many burnt out moms in our society, who than become negative and irritable.

  • Margaret

    Denny, I love this article! You really have spelled out why it’s so important that we place ourselves in the priority list along with our children, and not our children instead of us. I agree with Naomi when she says that we can’t properly care for our children if we’re run down or not feeling good. If we take care of ourselves, then we have a better chance of taking care of our children in the best way possible.

  • Angela Brooks

    I remember the first time I had to go to work with my oldest son – I was almost sick. However after a while when I saw he did just fine – I started enjoying the time I went to work and out to eat with friends with out freaking out. He was glad to see me and i was ready to be climbed all over by my toddler. Mothering should have a book but I guess if we did – we would rip out the pages we did not like (smile). Good post (which I was close enough we could go riding)

  • Deb Pilgrim

    Denny, Great article and it’s taking care of yourself is something I believe it. As parents it’s so important for us to step back and look after ourselves first. Happy parents – happy children. Thanks for the informative post. Deb

  • mary brink

    I grew up with the idea I should sacrifice all for my family, many native Americans still hold this to be our way. I’m learning the truth about how to build a strong child now and respect for all people, everywhere will be the foundation while I help ‘build’ my grandchildren, thank you Denny&co. Blessings

  • Anonymous

    You are welcome Deb and thanks for commenting!

  • Anonymous

    Love your comment Angela…brings to mind the trauma of the first day of school that many parents face! Always love it when after hearing how “hard” it was for them (parent) and yet 90% of the time when I ask how their child did, they say “Oh, she/he did fine!” Ha!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Margaret!

  • Anonymous

    And of course this is then “absorbed” by their children …and the cycle continues.

  • Anonymous

    Great point Naomi! We need to keep our bank of “giving” replenished by giving to ourselves…or we risk having the bank run dry. And that serves no one. Thanks for commenting.

  • Anonymous

    Amity, I was so blessed to have the parents and the childhood that I did which is what makes me so passionate about wanting to pass it on to others now. Thanks for your kind words!

  • Anonymous

    Great point Lily…regardless of what we have in our lives to focus our time on…we always need to honor and care for ourselves first!

  • Anonymous

    Sharon, and then you add a dose of what society injects into us about what “good” parents do to produce an overload of guilt and you have a perfect recipe for putting your own needs last! Thanks for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    Sharon, and then you add a dose of what society injects into us about what “good” parents do to produce an overload of guilt and you have a perfect recipe for putting your own needs last! Thanks for sharing!

  • Carol Giambri

    Denny, great post. Every parent needs time to themselves. Some may see it as selfish, but I see it enhancing the bonding between our kids. Great post Denny. I feel being exposed to a special needs grandbaby the “mom ” burns herself on both ends of the stick without realizing she is on duty 24×7. She could use a break but chooses to be overly protective as I see it so she remains as a full time mom–ready to pop. She doesn’t have an outlet to release some “steam” like exercising or massages.

  • Annemarie Cross

    Wonderful advice as usual Denny! Some sound strategies which I’m sure can be used even with teenagers. Loved the quote from Jung too!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Annemarie…Jung is one of my favorites!

  • Anonymous

    So many parents feel like they are letting their kids down if they have something in life to enjoy that doesn’t involve them as the main focus…truth is by living this way parents really are doing a disservice to their kids. Thanks for sharing your insights Carol!

  • Susan McKenzie

    Denny, I really needed this article today … because it’s a universal truth that goes beyond parenting into every area of our lives. I’m always at risk, it seems, of losing my identity when I don’t take enough time to care for myself! Thank you for sharing such a vital key to enjoying life!

  • Anonymous

    This is something I think we all need a reminder of…I finally decided that I HAD to actually schedule “me time” when I planned for the week ahead. If I didn’t literally block out some time on my calendar for the week and just “intended” to fit it in, it never seemed to happen. Too easy to say tomorrow…Ha!

  • Shahina Lakhani

    This is a great article Denny. Indeed, we teach others, including our children how to treat us, themselves and others

  • Hughie Bagnell

    Thank you Denny…great article which resonates with great strength! Thank you for sharing…Hughie :)

  • Anastasiya Day

    Denny, thank you so much for sharing this article with us! Great article as always.

  • Jennifer Bennett

    Love this article Denny as it is a great reminder to myself!  It’s so easy to get caught up in everything we has mothers need to do, that we seldom take time for ourselves. And if we do, at times we tend to feel guilty because we are not spending every waking moment with our child. But as you mentioned, what a great lesson for our children to see that we too need to take time for ourselves.  Thanks for sharing! 

  • Beth Heilman

    This is wonderful Denny…Thanks for the reminder that as parents, sometimes the best thing we can do for our kids is to be the example of how to honor ourselves. That’s why the airlines tell adults to “put the oxygen mask on first” :-)  If we pass out from lack of air (or self care) who will take of them?

  • Michele M Tremblay

    Very nice article Denny. It took me a long while to get exactly what you are talking about in this article when my sons were little. Eventually, though I figured it out. And you are so right. Kids learn by watching you.

  • Patcruickshank

    I love how you tell your personal story as it gets the point across so well.  We can all relate.  Great advice.

  • Anne Sermons Gillis

    You always knock it out of the park. Such good advice.

  • Cheree Miller

    Wow! What an eye-opening post, Denny. This is so important for parents to understand. I think too many of us fall into the same trap of sacrificing everything for our children and others, with our needs ending up somewhere on the bottom of the stack. Thanks for your wisdom!

  • penny

    The way we treat ourselves teaches others how to treat us… I have so had to learn this… I know say to my kids, if I don’t get mommy time, mommy and kids time is not going to be good! lol. Its now to the point, when my daughter will say, mom you need some mommy time! 😉

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