Want to be a better parent: begin with your own self

It’s been a difficult year for me personally, caring for my mother who has dementia whilst going through a difficult divorce, and all the while parenting two teens, with their own unique challenges. What this time has taught me more than anything else is my ability to be a good parent, whatever that might be, hasn’t depended on the number of educational trips I’ve organised, the homework I’ve supervised, the number of University Open days I’ve attended, or the number of home made desserts I’ve made. What’s been critical has been the amount of time I’ve committed to my own self-care.

Some might say that’s incredibly selfish; “surely at this difficult time your children need you more than ever” or “you should be devoting every waking moment to your children”. To be honest if you’d have asked me last year I would have agreed. However, what I’ve learnt is self-sacrifice serves no one, least of all your children. It chips away at you, builds up resentment and comes out in an anger fuelled terade at your children for leaving their dishes by the sink, rather than placing them in the dishwasher!

Whilst I wouldn’t wish my difficult year on anyone else, it has taught me the importance of placing my own care at the top of my ‘to-do list’, for the benefit of everyone. I am the glue which holds my family together, as so many mothers are, and we cannot continue to do this if we feel tired, resentful, put upon, and stressed out. We have to find our own daily sanctuaries in the small things which keep us sane. For me, it’s waking up early to enjoy my coffee in peace and quiet whilst I write my diary, read, and then take my two dogs for their morning walk. When things get too much during the day I try, wherever possible, to take myself off somewhere for some quiet head-space, and once a month I treat myself to a one to one yoga session. You don’t need to spend a fortune on spa days, if you don’t want to, or set up elaborate shifts of child care so you can leave the house, you just need to find small windows of time during the day where you can simply be you. I find I often lose sight of who I really am as I become engulfed in the role which is ‘mother’ often doings things I feel I ought to do, to be a good mother, rather than what feels instinctively right for me and my family. We have to stop beating ourselves over the head with what we think makes a perfect mother and instead focus on what makes US the best mother we can be, one which stays true to our real and authentic selves, rather than who we think we ought to be.

What I’d like to think I’m teaching my children is not only how to deal with difficult situations with dignity and good grace, but also how important and valuable they are as individuals. In the same way they nurture their friendships, they must also nurture their own relationship with themselves; as the saying goes, you cannot put on another’s oxygen mask until you have first put on your own. Dedicating time to yourself each and every day keeps you connected to who you really are, and teaches your children to value and cherish themselves for who they really are too. It’s a win win for everyone.

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