Through all our Parent Education nights at Sinai Akiba, we have discussed numerous approaches to and shared research on the most effective ways to support a child’s social and emotional development. However, one of the most important pieces we must address, as parents and as caregivers, is the need for self-care. Without it, nothing we share can ever be as effective without our own needs being met. We need to be mindful that we are keeping our own cup full so that we can fill the cups of our children and our family. It’s critical that we understand that without making time for self-care, we cannot properly show up for anyone else, with intention.
As educators, each time we talk to a parent, have a meeting or a conference, something that shows up the most, is this need for parental self-care and so many of the questions that parents have can be answered when we take the time to look at our own needs, and our own feelings. We see how the lack of meeting our own needs and the lack of addressing our own feelings, is often the root of so much conflict within our home.
So, a question to ask yourselves is, “How much of how you see your own identity, is defined by being a parent and are you giving space within that identity for the other parts of self; the friend, the partner, the daughter or son, the colleague and most importantly our individual self?”
Parental Benefit vs Child Benefit
We could probably all agree that self-care is good for our physical and mental health. It feels good. It lowers stress. And it allows us to handle the stress of our children and family, in a healthy way. However, many of us as caregivers may carry guilt for making time for ourselves. Even so, self-care is so vital to our well-being AND so important to our own child’s development and well-being.
Your children have already started building their own sense of self and have begun to understand the rules of what is socially acceptable and what role they will take on within their family and eventually, within society. Throughout that process they will look to us, to you, their caregivers to make sense of those roles.
Each act of self-care is a direct message to our children that says:
- “I value myself, as you should value yourself”
- “It is OKAY to take time for my own needs, as it is okay for you to take time for your needs.
Studies have even shown that:
- Practicing self-care as parents can help to improve empathy development in our children.
- Most importantly, when children see their caregivers respond to stress with healthy self-care, they are learning that there are healthy ways to manage stress rather than unhealthy ways like drugs or alcohol.
- You are helping to make the connection between growth and stability and the importance of recognizing our own needs and feelings.
For this to work, however, we need to do the following:
- First, we need to make the time. There will probably be little opportunity for moments to magically appear where we will have time for self-care, and you will need to actually carve out time for yourself.
- Second, we need help; help from my partners and help from our tribe! Co-parenting is a tag-team effort and we need to know that our partners will show up when we cannot and vice versa.
- Third, we need to ask for what we need. It is so easy as a human to have a ton of expectations, but never actually voice them to our partners or our children and we are left disappointed. No matter how much we want to assume that the people in our lives will KNOW what we need or SHOULD KNOW what we need, simply because they are our loved ones, we can’t. It’s our responsibility to voice those needs and ours alone.
To further this idea - when we ask our partners for what we need and work as partners together, in front of our children, we are again sending the direct message to our children that says, this is what a healthy relationship looks like and this is what you should expect and what you should stand for as you build your own relationships.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to modeling. If we aren’t showing our children that it’s okay to take care of ourselves or that it’s okay to ask our partners for help, how can we expect them to learn those things for themselves?
You might consider self-care for parents as strategic parenting. Rather than looking at self-care as something to feel guilty for, we can view it as a tool to help ourselves and our families. It will be challenging, but we have to find a balance between self-care and self-indulgence. We must ask for help and speak about our needs, and we must be kind to ourselves above all else.
No matter what approach you choose to take with your children and no matter how you decide to parent, please be mindful of how you approach yourself, how you take care of yourself and understand that being present, mindful, and valuing your own needs, are at the heart of all the work you do. It is that self-awareness that allows us to show up for our children, both in the classroom and at home. We all agree as teachers, that there is no way around that.