Relax and Take Good Care of Yourself

Your biggest parenting responsibility is to maintain your ability to respond.

Posted Feb 08, 2020

 Artem Beliaikin, used with permission
Source: Artem Beliaikin, used with permission

One of the most persistent and pernicious cultural myths is that mothers should be martyrs to their children. But no. The research shows that it’s quite the reverse: Too much self-sacrifice and too little self-care on the part of a parent (especially a mother), combined as it so often is with a heavy sense of having two full-time jobs (one at work and one at home), does not lead to happy or healthy children. For your child to thrive, you need to figure out what you need to do so you can thrive, too.

Michael Ungar is a psychology professor at Dalhousie University and the principal investigator of the Resilience Research Centre there. He and his colleagues have done pioneering work considering why some children thrive in the most problematic of circumstances, and why others don’t, even in highly privileged circumstances.

One of the variables that Ungar has identified as important for healthy and happy children, regardless of their family and community situation, is parental happiness. He has observed that things go better for children when mothers, in particular, are relaxed and happy than when they are stressed.

He recommends that if you’re a parent, you should do your best to take good care of yourself, even if that means letting household chores and other obligations slide a bit. He writes, “A little benign neglect could give our kids the edge we want them to have by placing in their life a role model for work-life balance and reasonable expectations.”

The most damaging home environments—those where children have high anxiety, poor emotional adjustment, and low self-confidence—are those where parents argue a lot or don’t share problems with each other, and where parents aren’t warm with their child, but rather are short-tempered and demanding. What really matters to children is love and kindness, not where they live or how much money their family has.

It’s important for your child that you find satisfaction in your role as a parent, and that you feel you have a good, strong network of social support. Your source of support can be a spouse, but it can also be friends, extended family, neighbors, religious or other community members, or colleagues at work.

When you feel you’re getting the support you need, you are able to be a happier and calmer parent and are more available to your child, both emotionally and physically. In “Happy Parents Happy Kids,” Ann Douglas describes parents who are struggling with the challenges of becoming happier and calmer, as well as all the good reasons that it’s worth doing.

Here are some ideas for becoming a happier, calmer person and a better parent:

1. Trust the power of neural plasticity. You are not too old to change your brain’s programming. You can slow down. No matter your circumstances, you can learn to relax and take better care of yourself, starting now.

2. Cultivate a growth mindset. Approach your failures, setbacks, and roadblocks, and your child’s, as learning opportunities. You really can start all over again with today’s disaster, and figure out a better way forward.

3. Practice mindfulness. Find your best way to stay rooted in the here and now, so you can respond with calm strength when that’s needed.

4. Rely on your network of social support. Take time to reach out to friends, other parents, and family members. Be open about your struggles. Look for opportunities for collaborative problem-solving.

You can trust that whatever problems you’re having, others are having them too. And if the people you’re talking to are not having the same problems, they do have problems of their own they’ll be happier sharing with you once you’ve opened up to them.

5. Remind yourself why you became a parent. And if you didn’t choose to become a parent, remind yourself why you decided to raise your child. It reduces your stress to remember your sense of purpose.

6. Make time for your health. Get some exercise, go outside, take time to make and enjoy nutritious meals with your family. And sleep. Do your very best to get enough sleep; it is so important, both for your child and for you.

7. Try to establish a better work-life balance. This is so much easier to say than to do but do your best. To the extent you are successful, it will make a difference in your child’s health, happiness, and success, both now and into the future.

8. Be good to yourself. You are your child’s most important resource. The happier and healthier you are, the better their life will be.