Whenever I am on a plane, I am reminded of the importance of the need for parents to take care of themselves in order to be the best possible parents to their kids. I listen to the safety instructions, which include reminding parents to take oxygen first in the event of an emergency before they give oxygen to their children. You see, a parent who lacks enough oxygen can't possibly be in the best possible position to take good enough care of their kids. I love this analogy and have used it hundreds of times in my work with parents to reinforce the need for parents to take good care of themselves. As we all know, many parents feel guilty taking care of themselves and feel that every drop of their energy should be poured into taking care of their children's needs. I, too, remember being the young mother of a toddler and getting some secret satisfaction from feeling tired and sometimes even exhausted. What it meant to me was that yes, I was doing everything I possibly could for my daughter. Over the years, though, I have begun to re-think this idea.
Let me share my thoughts with you. Can you really be available and present with joy and playfulness if you are exhausted? I am not implying that parents always need to be in the best of spirits, but at least some of the time we need to have enough energy reserves to show that life can be fun and that there is a time for playfulness. Now, we all know that when we are running on empty we are prone to irritability and even to saying things to our kids that we regret. When we are exhausted we are also likely to be less present in the moment and may also be more prone to forget things like paying attention to stop signs and traffic lights. Not a single parent that I know wants to intentionally harm their child.
How about this? You are your child's most important role model. If you are depleted and not taking care of yourself then you may be giving your child of any age the message that growing older basically stinks. Hey, why would they want to grow up if you make aging look like a drag? If you make sure to schedule some time to do things you enjoy (I am well aware how hard it is to find the time and babysitters), your kids will see aging as a positive part of life and perhaps be less likely to try to act like a teen as an adult.
And perhaps we would have less of a problem with childhood obesity if parents took care of their need to exercise and eat well. None of us want to set up our kids to die prematurely as adults because of bad eating and exercise habits established as a child. And yes, your kids are more likely to develop positive nutritional and exercise habits if this was what they saw their parents doing. If you want your kids to have healthy friendships, then maybe you should allow yourself more opportunities to see your friends and model the importance of having a social support network. You want your children to have interests and passions, I assume. Then, yes, develop some of your own. Kids do what they see being done in the home. Yes, most of our kids' bad habits are probably things that we have inadvertently modeled for them.
So, my best advice is that if you want to be the best possible parent that you can be sleep enough, exercise, have some fun and enjoy yourself, too. It will make you a better parent. I know that this is easier said than done, but hey, it needs to be mulled over.