Because you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Parenting is one of the toughest jobs there is. It’s physically and emotionally draining, you’re on call 24/7 and you don’t get any training or paid leave. In order to excel in this role, it’s vital to address your own needs, as well as those of your children. Mental health has a significant impact on the quality of parenting and on the psychological wellbeing of children. Replenishing your “emotional fuel” is an essential non-negotiable parenting skill, so below are some suggestions to help achieve that.
1. Identify and act on your values
Values refer to activities which give our life meaning. They help us make choices based on the direction we want our lives to go in. Which areas of your life currently bring you a sense of meaning? Is your current behaviour congruent with those values? If not, consider what meaningful changes you could make to bring your life more in line with your values, thus enhancing your emotional wellbeing.
2. Take time out
Prioritise, plan and commit to regular “me” time. This could include rest, sleep, exercise, socialising or a personal hobby. Planning in advance makes it more likely to happen and you’ll return to your family feeling content and revitalised.
3. Address guilt
Guilt often arises from a perception that putting your own needs first is neglectful, selfish or harmful to your child. It is a common obstacle to engaging in consistent acts of self-care. Try distancing yourself and evaluating your perceptions from an alternate perspective. Ask yourself, “What is the evidence that occasionally putting my needs first will be harmful?” Another method is to think of the advice you would give a friend in a similar situation.
4. Practice self-compassion
Closely linked to the previous point, is this one. Unrealistic parenting standards and negative evaluation of oneself can fuel self-critical thinking patterns. When this happens frequently, it brings about feelings of unworthiness, failure, inferiority and guilt. Self-compassion describes the act of extending kindness and love to oneself in instances of perceived inadequacy. In other words – give yourself permission to be imperfect.
5. Acknowledge your achievements
We are generally much better at acknowledging our failures than our successes. One way to re-balance our thinking is by regularly writing down three things we’ve achieved or succeeded at each day. These notes can then be used as evidence to help us re-evaluate unhelpful thoughts when they arise.
6. Be mindful
Mindfulness describes our natural capacity to be aware of what is happening in the present moment. It has been shown to have abundant benefits for mental health as well as parent-child relationships. Try the Five Senses Exercise – immerse yourself in your present moment and then notice five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Calm your mind by using your five senses to focus on your environment instead of your thoughts.
7. Connect with others
Healthy connections are vital to emotional wellbeing. Invest your time and energy into nurturing relationships with people who have shared values and meaning and minimise or cease involvement with unhealthy ones. If your current support network cannot meet your emotional needs, seek support from a qualified health professional who can.
8. Nurture your relationship
A strong parental relationship is one of the greatest gifts you could give your child. The Gottman Institute suggests couples can maintain emotional closeness by following the “golden rule” of relationships; small things often. They suggest that you:
- make time and effort to engage with your partner’s bids for affection, emotional support or sex
- express fondness and admiration
- prioritise partings and reunions
- make space for meaningful conversations
- never stop dating each other
Not only is regular moderate exercise essential for quality and longevity of life, but it also enhances psychological resilience and emotional wellbeing. Parents may need to be creative in finding ways to fit exercise into busy schedules. Try exercising together as a family (for example, child-friendly hikes), combining play and exercise (such as football in the park), or combining date nights with fitness (overnight hikes and camping).
Read more: Day Gym Classes For Mamas In Hong Kong
10. Connect with your inner child
Follow your little one’s lead, reconnect with your inner child and engage in some playtime. Adult play has been shown to stimulate your mind, boost creativity, improve relationships, relieve stress and enhance emotional wellbeing. Revisit old passions or discover new pleasurable interests. Most importantly, have fun!