How Self-Care Improves Parenting

parenting self-care Nov 07, 2019

Self-care could be the single most important tool in parenting.

My mood, temperament, body language, even the words I use, and facial expressions play a role in what will happen between me and my child.

I am the leader in my household whether I want to be or not. Even if I'm still trying to figure out who I am and what I need in this world, my girls are waiting for me to set the stage and define the mood. Sometimes I can’t be the positive, loving, and empathetic person I set out to be. Sometimes my childhood and other issues get in the way of expressing the lighthearted and fun-loving person that I was born to be.

I am a product of my upbringing. It molded many of my initial responses to parenting. Those first reactions were on autopilot, and if I'm not mindful, I can slip back into this type of behavior. This is where my gut reaction gets in the way of thinking rationally. Even when I know that yelling isn’t productive, I still end up yelling or at least really wanting to. Why? Because I’ve been conditioned, and that is the human condition.

Modeling is the best teacher, and, boy, was I a good student. My parents probably raised me the way they were raised so when it came time for me to raise my own kids, I defaulted to what I knew. When I don't know what else to do, yelling can feel right. In the moment, it feels like the best way to calm everyone down and make all the chaos stop. Many have asked me how to change this behavior. How do you stop reacting?

I think that is the million-dollar question that we all want answered.

First and foremost, we are never going to be perfect. We will never respond in the perfect way with 100 percent accuracy. No way! It’s not possible. Just know that this is perfectly fine and gives us opportunities to apologize and make amends. It allows our children to see us as human and know that perfectionism is not even a thing.

I get that we all want to do better. I think there are “deep work” things we need to do, and then there are surface and more band-aid things which are very useful. I believe the deep work is the real self-care, the stuff that has moved me through all kinds of old habits and past hurts to make things more connected for me and my girls.

The deep work is when I identify and work on my triggers, those upsets, and points that evoke big emotions for me. I understand now that when my children disobeyed me, it put me in a tailspin and had me seething. When I started looking at those moments, the ones where I was really angry, I began to ask myself why the situation made me so angry? Why did it bother me? Sure it was annoying, and my kids “should” behave and do as I ask, but why was I becoming so upset?

My work was to look at how this unfolded in my own nuclear family. Growing up, my parents would yell at me and show deep anger and disappointment anytime I did something they didn’t like. Sure I had my part in it, but their response was never a calm one. Shame, blame, ridicule, and yelling were the norm.

My parents are good people and did the best they could. Like me and all of us, they didn’t know any better and likely did light years better than their parents. Nonetheless, the result was me passing on my parent’s parenting.

Once I began to realize what was happening, I began to journal to process my reactions. I wrote about the big upsets, those igniting moments where I made mistakes and responded in ways I didn’t want to. I also talked to people who knew and understood me, which made those feelings real. I felt those hurts and lived in the pain. I told them of my transgressions and tried to find links to my childhood and my relationship with my parents.

This was not a one-time occurrence. I did it over and over again. This process began to heal my unmet needs. I started to recognize what was wrong with my childhood, and when I did, I found more love and compassion for my kids because I found more compassion for my inner child.

When I cried and mourned and was angry about how I was treated as a child, I realized just how much that treatment affected me. In those realizations, I came to understand just how my kids felt when I treated them in those ways.

I was healing myself so I could stop the cycle. I started with my upset, and then I related it to my childhood and found the hurt. I realized it was the same hurt my kids were going to feel if I didn’t change things.

On top of that hard work, I did all the small, necessary things to take care of myself too. For me, it was sleep. Sometimes I would call my dad to watch the kids so I could take a nap or go to the grocery store alone. Soon, I began exercising daily which really helped. Feeling like I could leave them home alone with their dad, my dad or even a sitter was a relief as well.

Searching myself, my hurts, and personal triggers helped, but I see them as things to get me to the next time I can go deeper. Taking care of yourself keeps the hard feelings at bay until you can locate the source of those feelings and root them out. Making them real helps you let them go.

Here are some things to get you started on your journaling journey.

1. What was the most difficult part of being a child in your own family? How did it feel? Don’t write about the “incidents” write about the feelings.

2. How was crying responded to in your own family? How does that feel, looking back on it now?

3. When do you become really angry with your children? Why? What is.your reaction? Does it remind you of the way you were treated growing up? Considering this, do you think your children feel the same way? If so, how does that feel to you as a parent?

4. Looking back at your childhood, what did you crave emotionally from a parent? How was your childhood lacking that? What does it look like to you now to be that kind of parent? What things do you do to make sure you are giving your child what you didn’t have emotionally?

I hope this is helpful and moves you toward more peaceful parenting.

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