As a parent it is natural to put your kids first. After all, isn’t it Biblical to be self-sacrificial? Isn’t that part of the definition of love? Does “love your neighbor as yourself” mean we should love them more than ourselves? If we are going to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us” we must first know what we’d like done to ourselves. Both of these popular verses show us that loving others requires us to take care of ourselves as well.
I make this point because I am going to make a strong statement here: Self-care and growth as a parent IS good parenting. The more troubled your son or daughter is the more true this is for you. I have a few reason for believing this:
- I’ve seen it play out over and over. In 15 years of working with very troubled teenagers I’ve rarely if ever seen a parent who neglects themselves to sacrifice for their kid reap a long term breakthrough.
- It’s good modeling. They watch us more than listen to us. If they see us working on ourselves they can follow that example. If they see us neglect ourselves, or insist we don’t need to change or grow or learn, they will likely follow that example.
- Healthy parents tend to produce resilient kids. I know every parent of a troubled teen is secretly worried that it’s their own fault. It’s never one person’s fault to bear, but we should be strong enough to shoulder some of the responsibility and work on the part we can work on.
- Overly neglecting yourself for the sake of your child sends the message that he is the center of the universe and that others do not matter as much as him. It tends to create the egocentric attitude that keeps kids stuck. It’s good for junior to know that mom and dad have lives outside of their relationship with him.
If you’re confused on what I mean by “self-care”, consider the following:
- Do you have a life outside your child? Do you post things social media that do not involve your parenting or is your parenting all you have anymore? Do you have a purpose besides your parenting that you pour your yourself into regularly?
- Are you taking care of your body? Do you exercise, eat right, and have some sort of method to reduce anxiety in your body?
- Are you socializing with friends? Do you have people you can talk to about the problems you are dealing with in your own life? Do you talk to those people about how it affects you or are you just talking about junior’s problems to the point that those problems are becoming your identity and purpose in life?
- How’s your marriage? Are you working on it, even if things are ok?
- Have you talked to a therapist about how junior’s problems are affecting you?
- How is your spiritual life? Are you praying and reading your Bible and are you attending church? Does your prayer life center mainly on your child? Does that make you feel heroic?
In my opinion these things have as much power to help your son/daughter as any direct intervention on his/her behalf. Get counseling for your kid, move neighborhoods, get him in a different school, send him to long term treatment, but I do not think any of these direct intervention will have as much affect as simply having a healthy parent who is staying healthy by prioritizing their own self-care.
Think about it this way, if you’re going under the knife tomorrow and the surgery is risky, do you want your surgeon to stay up all night thinking and worrying about you? Or do you want your surgeon to get a good, restful nights sleep so he can best operate on you? Gotcha.