As any parent can understand, there is an ongoing and infinite number of decisions that one has to make in relation to the parenting and care of children.
Decisions cover every conceivable topic from what school to send your kids to, to how to juggle various social and sporting activities, to how much TV time to allow. From a health perspective there are constant decisions about what to feed your kids, whether they are too sick to go to school, when something is serious enough to take them to a doctor, what kinds of people are they exposed to in different situations. In relation to discipline there’s the ongoing challenge of how to deal with difficult situations or behaviour, how to recognise and rewards good behaviour, what kind of messages we send when we react to situations ourselves, when to be gentle and when to be loving but tough.
In fact, parents have to make so many children-related decisions that it’s easy to get caught up in our kid’s needs and forget to also take our own needs into account.
For example, your ideal holiday might be a quiet beach side resort where you can while away the day reading a book whilst watching the waves lap onto the sand, or trekking through the wilderness with everything you need on your back. Your kid’s ideal holiday might be somewhere that has loads of other kids, a swimming pool, games rooms, kids activities, and video games, etc. And, often it can be hard to find the ideal choice that meets every one’s needs.
When it comes to certain kinds of decisions it is important to prioritize our kids’ needs over our own. This is because kids are generally more vulnerable. Kid’s look to us to take care of them, and kids still require guidance and direction from parents.
However, in order to be happy ourselves and be successful as parents it’s important that we realise that there are times when our needs also have to be taken into account. Or sometimes where we need to put our own needs first. In fact, there are times when it is critical that we put our own needs first in order to be better parents.
The emergency instructions on an aircraft advise us to put on our own oxygen masks before attending to our children. This appears counter-intuitive, but in fact it makes perfect sense. Because our children depend on us so significantly, we need to ensure that we are healthy and sufficiently present to be able to support them. If we use our limited time and energy to put our kids’ masks on first there is a good chance we may not get to ever put our own on… and then who is going to look after the kids.
As parents if we are always putting our kids’ needs first and forget to take care of ours, we can land up being stressed, reactive, unhappy, angry… even ill. And how is that going to benefit our kids?
Being effective parents is about finding a balance. Sometimes we may need to take ourselves off to the beach on our own (or with a partner/friend) for a day or two to allow ourselves to re-charge. And ‘so what’ if this means that one of our kids miss their weekly sports practice? Sometimes we need to cook our own favourite meal, even if we know our kids don’t like it or wont eat it. Sometimes we need to send our kids to bed earlier than normal so we can have an adult conversation with a partner or friend, or even just to have some quiet time in front of our favourite TV show.
Doing these things at times does not make us bad parents. I would suggest that not doing these things can affect our ability to be good parents.
For some of us, it can be extremely hard to put ourselves first. For others it can be something that we do naturally and perhaps having kids forced us to change. Because of the nature of relationships and of life itself, there is no perfect way to make these kinds of decisions, and there are no right or wrong answers.
As parents, we each make our decisions based on what we think is best for our children.
The question is ‘how do we balance our needs with those of our children’?