Issue 97 is out now
Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

09th October 2020

WHAT DO YOU NEED right now to feel good? It might be a hug, a walk amongst trees, a conversation with a friend, a cup of herbal tea, a few moments with a favourite book. Integrating a practice of self-care into daily parenting life is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves, and our children.

Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

09th October 2020

Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

09th October 2020

Why? Because we cannot meet our children’s needs until we have first met our own.

Even in the midst of a stressful parenting moment when the children are bickering and there are 100 things on the to-do list, you can still apply the magic of self-care. Press pause and ask yourself what YOU need right now. Maybe it can only be a quick stretch in the garden or a few minutes of calm breathing. Yet the fact you are tuning in to your own needs reminds you of your importance in the harmony of family life. You are worthy of your love and attention too. When we are nourished with acts of care we are able to act from a place of love and security.

Isn’t it selfish? From our baby’s earliest days, we often learn to deny our needs. For at least the first year of my parenting journey, I succumbed to the myth that the more selflessly I gave of myself – physically and emotionally – the better parent I would be. And I know I’m not alone. Working as a massage therapist supporting post-natal families, I saw many mothers (and some fathers) putting themselves under enormous pressure to meet their baby’s needs without once attending to their own. In a culture where the mother is the key carer, and usually without the support of an extended family and community network, it is easy to see how the desire arises to, as psychologist Dr Laura Markham puts it, “sacrifice ourselves on the altar of parenthood”.

But as Naomi Aldort writes in ‘Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves’; “One human being’s need cannot be met by drowning out the needs of another, at least not without a price.” The price we pay as parents is usually burn out. We feel completely depleted, unable to give any more, and overwhelmed by the demands of those around us. Resentment builds. We crave something radical – a week in the Maldives! Solitude in a mountain hut! An escape from all responsibilities! Although it seems obvious now, it came as a bit of a shock to me that as a mother I couldn’t just run away when the going got tough. I had to stay and face the music, and I needed to find ways to make that possible. It was then I began to learn how small, daily acts of self-love and self-care could transform my life and my parenting.

Building Resilience However tightly planned our days are, life is changeable, and one of the vital skills in our parenting toolkit is resilience. If we’re running on empty, chances are that even a minor upset will tip us over the edge. But how do we go about building resilience so we can manage life’s ups and downs? By reassuring ourselves that we can meet our own needs.

Meeting our own needs is a way of building our child’s resilience too. By practicing self-care, we teach our children self-respect, self-love and the skills necessary to cope in a crisis. Our children learn most by watching us, so taking a few moments to breathe and calm down rather than fly off the handle, is a gift our children can take forward into their own lives.

A Daily Practice To fully experience the life-changing power of self-care, it needs to be a daily practice, not just a massage once a year or a hot bath once a week. Yes, life is busy, but consider this: if your child came running to you and said they really, really needed a hug right now, you would stop what you’re doing and give them a hug. It is unlikely you would say to your child, “sorry, that hug is going to have to wait until I have a bit more time. I can’t say exactly when that might be, certainly not tonight but possibly at the weekend, or when I can grab a moment in the holidays.”

The child within us all needs nourishment. However much we might try to shut it down, its cries demand to be heard and show themselves in erratic behaviour, anger, exhaustion or depression. Often when we find ourselves having a grown-up tantrum; setting down impulsive rules that don’t resonate with our beliefs; even having childish arguments with our kids, we’re defaulting to learned behaviours from our own childhood. To step out of these fight or flight states, we need to first calm the child within. Making time every day – even a few minutes – to nourish ourselves is reassurance of more care and attention to come.

Meeting our own need for love Daily acts of self-care are important but they won’t break the surface if we don’t take in the vital secret to becoming healthier, happier parents. That is – to love and forgive ourselves. Really love ourselves, exactly as we are. For a lot of us this can be incredibly challenging. It brings up childhood wounds that have been left to fester. We often have to face those inner demons that tell us we’re not good enough – not a good enough parent/partner/friend/daughter/son… Often we look for others to provide love and validation. We look to our partners – ‘He/she didn’t even notice I’d done all the washing up!’. We look to our parents – ‘If only they’d cared more when I was growing up.’ We look to our friends – ‘Does she think I’m a good parent because I made that choice?’ We even look to our kids – ‘I do so much for you, a thank you would be nice.’ Instead, practice thanking yourself. Practice doing an act of care for your home or community because you want to.

Love and validation can only come from within. Once we begin to play with this truth as parents, we set ourselves free from constantly seeking the approval of others. We start to feel the reassuring warmth of knowing that someone is always looking out for us, and cares about our feelings. As a consequence, we attract more warmth, love and kindness into our lives, because we’re no longer seeking it.

Lucy is a writer, mother and founder of adoptionwithheart.com; a nurturing resource for adoptive parents.

EMERGENCY SELF-CARE

Need something right this second? Try these quick and easy ways to comfort yourself in a crisis:

• Breathe consciously for a few minutes. Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this simple exercise to bring yourself into the present – repeat it in your head as you breathe: ‘Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.’

• Hug someone. Sometimes a hug releases the need to speak and stops harsh words. Sometimes it reminds us that our kids are just little people with big emotions. Sometimes everyone just needs a bit of human connection.

• Keep a bottle of flower essences with you for emergencies. bachflower.com

• Softly recite or whisper a self-love mantra to yourself. ‘I am enough. I am loveable exactly as I am. {Insert your name here}, I love and support you.’

TREAT YOURSELF TO A SELF-CARE READ: Cheryl Richardson ‘The Art of Extreme Self-Care’ Naomi Aldort ‘Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves’ Maya Fiennes ‘Yoga for Real Life’ Dr Laura Markham ‘Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids’ Gretchen Rubin ‘The Happiness Project

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