You are a loving parent. You may not be the perfect parent you want to be, but you’re certainly trying your best. At least, you think so.
I disagree. You are busting a gut trying to set a good example to your children, but in a very important way, you are failing them. Yes, you’re failing – failing to set them perhaps the most important example of all: the example of loving yourself.
When your children are tired, you feed them, bathe them, and hustle them into bed. You let them sleep late on weekends to make up sleep deficit accumulated over the week; you let them take the day off school if they’re sick. You let them get away with some ‘bad’ behavior if you know they are stressed. Their activities are sacrosanct – you ensure they get to practices and events. You ensure they have access to nutritious food on time.
Of course you do all this and more. You love them!
And what about yourself? You probably don’t do all this for yourself, which means you don’t love yourself. Don’t deny it! And this lack of love for yourself causes all kinds of problems for you.
You’re perpetually rushing around doing things for others. You are in self-sacrificing mode (why??), which means over a period of time, your nerves are on edge. You are tired (exhausted is more like it), frustrated, stressed, and trying to juggle all the demands on your time and energy. Eventually, you begin snapping at the least provocation or even without any provocation at all.
Your children are left wondering what they’ve done to get an over-the-top reaction from you. They are confused. You end up feeling guilty, and then swing between overcompensating to manage the guilt, and letting off steam. You feel worse about yourself so you do even more to make yourself feel better. Life swings more out of control.
This is only one fall-out of ignoring your OWN needs – for time, rest, fulfillment, quiet, nutrition, exercise – whatever does it for you.
There is a much deeper malaise it creates with our children. This malaise takes root at two levels.
Firstly, it teaches your child not to value your needs. Children learn by copying speech, behavior, mannerisms. After all, if you yourself don’t value your needs, why should your child? But you continue to value his needs, so he does too! As you do this over months and years, the attitude of valuing himself, and under-valuing or not valuing you becomes ingrained. You know what happens next. You complain. You protest. You accuse him of being selfish, of not caring for you. “After ALL I’ve done for you!” 🙂 In short, you even stoop to blackmail. But to no avail.
How can you blame him? You are the one who has taught him this attitude. Think back to the number of times your son told you over the years, “Why don’t you go to bed if you’re not feeling well?” He was just echoing what you said to him. And in all those years, how many times did you actually go to bed? Try and think. Did you? Or did you say, “I should go to bed, but then who will do all the work…” Of course he’ll treat you like a drudge later on. You’ve taught him to do so!
Look at what this does to your relationship with your child. You feel ill-used, under-appreciated, and resentful. Your child, meanwhile, is mystified by all the fuss. He can’t understand why you suddenly want things to be different from how you’ve wanted them all these years.
Since he’s going through (or almost going through) puberty by this time, he has enough to deal with already. And your behavior has him convinced you’re going through a mid-life crisis. (At the very least – most of them think we’re completely gaga [and that’s not Lady Gaga ;-)] by this time.)
Your relationship with your child goes into a tailspin at the very time you need it to be strong so he can be relatively grounded through the turbulent times ahead.
The other level at which putting yourself last affects your child is that it teaches her that ‘good’ people (adults) don’t value their own needs; that they put others’ needs before their own. It teaches her that this destructive relationship with oneself is called ‘loving someone’. Obviously, someone other than oneself!
When you put yourself last all the time, you are teaching her to shortchange herself for the rest of her life. It prepares her for a life of less joy and fulfillment than she is capable of, and definitely less of it than she deserves.
She will be manipulated by people all through her life. “If you love me, you would… / you wouldn’t…” Once again, I must specify that this is as true of men as of women, though on average, women tend to be less respectful of their own needs than men do. Must be the nurturing gene…
Do you want this for your child? Why not empower her to live a free, fulfilling life?
So why do you do it? No, don’t say “who else will take care of things?” You mean if you take the day off sick the office will close down? Really? If you ask your child to be responsible for his own breakfast on Sundays so you can sleep in, will he think Dad and Mom don’t love him anymore? That you are selfish? Nonsense! Who taught you all this? Look back. Where did you learn this? Revisit your childhood. Do you see how you got to this point?
Do you see what a terrible legacy you are handing down to the child you love?
I don’t know your child personally, but I’m sure of one thing: your child is smart. Actually, that’s SMART in capital letters. As you go about your life putting yourself last, and trying hard to convince her you are happy, the only one you are fooling is yourself. She knows at all times when you are really feeling something, and when you are only pretending to an emotion you do not feel.
If you are not at peace, your child will not be at peace. Your pretending will only make things worse between you. Take the time and space you need to be yourSELF.
Put yourself right at the top of your priority list – yes, No. 1! And your child will find she has the best parent ever! 🙂