Back when I was a young single mom of two little girls, I could be described as an emotional mess. I had no idea what the role of self care for parents even was. I mean…I remember taking my kids to Walgreens for school supplies and I had a panic attack since I couldn’t afford a notebook. It was once I realized that I was down on the ground, mascara running everywhere, wailing that I realized I had a problem. I felt like an embarrassment.
Then one day, on my way to work I overheard one of my coworkers telling my boss, “You don’t want to tell her that. You know how she is.” I was mortified. I realized that I was developing a reputation for being too emotionally volatile to handle.
Most days, I really was a nervous wreck. I feared…EVERYTHING. I was always afraid the other shoe was going to drop. If it weren’t for the fact that I had to take care of my kids, I would be in bed, crying.
My kids were the only things that were helping me keep it together. I was scared of life.
Until one day…
My youngest had a wiggly tooth and my oldest decided to take it upon herself to pluck it out. Needless to say, I was pretty peeved about the whole thing.
“I can’t believe you did that! What were you thinking?” I asked her. That’s when she stormed upstairs. I wasn’t sure what she was doing since I was chatting with one of my friends on the phone…which I dropped the minute I saw what my daughter did next.
There she stood, knife in hand, threatening to cut herself. My sweet little 9 year old daughter had decided that my disappointment in her was enough to make her want to hurt herself. I asked her to hand the knife to me, and I held her.
The horror of the situation taunted me for days after that. I had disturbing dreams of losing her.
I never wanted for her to react to a situation to that ever again.
That was when I realized that I needed to change myself if I wanted for her to change.
Up until this point, I had never heard of self care for parents. It was not even a thing. I was reacting to all of the events in my life instead of LIVING my life. I was playing the role of a victim, and I was broadcasting my whole victim story for my kids. How else was my daughter supposed to react to a situation where I expressed disappointment? She had witnessed me react to similar stressful situations by allowing my anxiety take the wheel. She hadn’t really ever seen me handle stressful situations with patience, intuition, and/or contemplation.
I was training her to live life in fear. That was NOT what I wanted for my children at all.
This was when I decided that it was my responsibility to show them what it means to treat myself with compassion and kindness; with self-care and self-love so that they would know how to do the same.
I began diving into what it meant to fully take care of myself.
I realized that if I wanted for my kids to do well, I needed to take care of me. I started cooking for my family since I knew that this meant that they were getting the best food without the hidden junk. I included my girls in my adventures in cooking, along with educating them WHY we were focusing on preparing foods that were wholesome and not filled with crap.
Fitness became a top priority for me, and I made sure that my girls knew this. It made such an impact on them that for Christmas they asked me to get them Hello Kitty exercise equipment (super cute!). I later became a Nia teacher and simply couldn’t stop talking to my girls about the power of the mind-body connection.
I read Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, and it CHANGED MY LIFE. I learned how the power of presence is everything; and how critical it was to disengage from the toxic stories I was telling myself over and over. I feel that this is a must-read for anyone that is interested in self care for parents.
And this was just the beginning!
My whole world began to transform, and the most exciting thing was that my girls were there to witness it all! I simply couldn’t shut up about how awesome it was to meditate. To pay my bills. To live in a space that felt comfortable and nurturing. I shared with them how important it was to find healthy relationships. They were there when they saw that things weren’t working with their stepfather, and how I made the decision to end it for the sake of MY happiness. They stood by me as I came out of the closet and married my wife…one thing that brought me the greatest joy in life.
My girls witnessed me struggle, of course, from time to time. I would then ask them for a minute so that I could meditate on what needed to happen. After I reached clarity, I would share it with them.
I traveled with them since travel made me feel like I was free. I wanted them to know what it looked like to feel that joyful.
At the same time, I allowed them to see me when I was sad, particularly when their stepsister took her life. Together, our family navigated through what severe grief was like on multiple levels.
If you are a parent and you want happy, healthy kids…
…take care of yourself first. I could go on and on about what this looked like for me and my family, but instead, I want to stress how important it is that you take care of YOU.
It is true that there are a million things that are likely demanding your attention right now. I know that although the thought of drawing a long hot bath sounds wonderful, you just can’t fit it in.
Find a way to do it. Get a babysitter. Put the kids to bed early. Or do what I did: take the kids along for the ride! If you can’t find time in your schedule to work out, have them do it with you. If cooking seems like it’s terrifying and you’re not much of a cook, consider that your children may actually be budding culinary artists. Allow them to begin preparing meals with your assistance. I found this post: Easy Recipes That Kids Can Cook if you’re looking for help with that.
Ultimately, it is your responsibility to take care of yourself so that your kids will learn how to approach challenges in life in a healthy way. It isn’t fair to them to see you simply reacting to life from a scary, emotional space. They need to know the specific tools you use to navigate through the pain and struggle.
Also…Have you checked out the Body Scan Meditation yet? If not, you’re missing out! This technique is AMAZING for helping you get your chill on when you’re afraid you’re going to lose your cool. Do it every day! It is another MUST for self care for parents! You may also want to read this post: 10 Tools for Dealing With Anxiety Like a Boss.
Do you have self-care tips that you share with your kids? What are they? I’d love for you to join the discussion and share them in the comments below, or to email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.