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.”
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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".