Do you know what it takes to be a good parent?
I don’t know that there are many who would say there is a single definition that all parents would agree upon. Mostly that is because there are so many different philosophies about parenting. There are those who swear by attachment parenting, and others who refute that approach as being too coddling. There are parents who feel that parenting properly means guiding your children every step of the way, pushing them to push themselves and at times making choices for them rather than letting them choose. There are parents who believe in the value of strict discipline, and others who focus more on positive reinforcement to the exclusion of punishment or negative reinforcement. And then there are a host of cultural and societal factors that play into determining what is considered to be right or wrong parenting. I think that most parents would agree though that consistency makes for good parenting, nurturing, addressing basic needs as best you can, and keeping your children safe from harm are also pretty universal concepts. However, here is something many parents forget when trying to define what help them be a good parent: self-care.
One of the biggest changes that occurs at the time of becoming a parent is the loss of freedom. For the first real time in most people lives they become accountable to someone else at all times. Being a parent means always having to plan and prepare for someone else’s needs first. You can’t just decide you don’t feel hungry and skip making a meal for your children, nor can you decide you want to sleep in and leave them to their own devices to get to school (well not in the beginning at least). Being a parent means that in the back of your mind you are always worrying about someone else, and often times you are doing so to the detriment of your own needs. Here’s the thing, if you are not well taken care of then you can’t really take care of others well. If you are tired, run down, dissatisfied, over-scheduled then you are exhausting precious resources just trying to get by. Those resources are not available for all the people you take care of, no matter what you may think. I constantly remind patients of mine who are caretakers (parents or other) that the first person whose needs they have to meet are their own.
If you are unconvinced at this point ask yourself the following question:
- When are you more patient?
- When you are well rested or tired and haggard from running 15 different errands?
- When are you more fun to be around?
- Or when are you able to truly enjoy and immerse yourself in play and activities with your children?
- Last question, when do you find yourself raising your voice or doling out a dozen unrealistic consequences?
Most parents will say that they are at their best after having had some kind of down time, whether it be resting or doing something for themselves. They will also say that they are at their worst or least ideal when they are tired, when they feel like they have been carting their families around all day, or running errands without a break for fun. It is no wonder that evenings are so difficult in most households – everyone is tired and therefore everyone is at their worst.
So if you ever wonder what makes a good parent here is a little piece of advice, a good parent is, among other things, a parent who takes care of themselves as well as they take care of others. Take the time every day for yourself, whether it is for five minutes or two hours every little bit counts. Ask yourself what you have been missing the most: maybe it’s five minutes of peace at the start of your day, or 15 minutes to listen to some music, maybe (and this is a favorite assignment of mine) it’s 30 minutes of down time when you step through the door at the end of the day before you have to start thinking about dinner, homework, art projects, bath time, bedtime routines and getting lunch ready for the next day.
If you remain skeptical at this point, why not run an little experiment. Try taking those five, 15 or 30 minutes for the next week and see whether you like you parenting any better, maybe even ask the kids what they thought of daddy or mommy at the end of the week.
I originally posted this article in the Empower Charter School Blog.