I’m not really qualified to give parenting advice. Like, at all (at least the last time I checked…I don’t believe an Advertising degree counts…). Which is why this post is called “The Best Advice I Can Give to Parents” rather than “The Best Advice to Give Parents”. I realize, of course, that you didn’t ask, but much as it might disappoint you, I think this blog might actually benefit me more than it benefits you. So perhaps this is more like “The Advice I Wish I Could Go Back in Time and Tell Myself or at Least Remember on a Semi-Regular Basis” (if you’re a grammar nazi, I don’t want to hear a word about my use of caps and/or italics in article titles).
So, here goes nothing. The most I know about parenting (ha!):
Do things that make you happy.
That’s pretty much the foundation of everything, I’ve found. I’ve heard a lot of versions of this before, like “don’t forget to do things you enjoy every now and then!” or “don’t forget to take care of yourself!”. And these are great, too, but not quite as far-reaching as I think they should be.
Your happiness shouldn’t be an afterthought
I don’t think making your own self happy should be a secondary concern as a parent. I think it should be right up there with providing for your children. You have a responsibility to yourself and to your children to take care of yourself and show them how to live good lives.
Children learn by example
I’ve seen far too many mothers (and on occasion fathers as well) give up everything they are, everything they want, everything they need for their children. While it seems incredibly unselfish and wonderful to be so self-sacrificing, it actually does more harm than good, in my opinion (holy moly, did I just spell out “IMO”? How old am I??). Because children learn by example. So when you sacrifice your whole self for them, they learn to sacrifice their whole selves for everybody else. And, in essence, they don’t chase after or accomplish what they want in life, rather they accomplish what other people want them to accomplish. Bit of a Catch 22, isn’t it?
As usual, I have a theory as to why we are so keen to lose ourselves to our children (although I also like this theory). Specifically in the case of women, I think this has proven to be a result of our culture’s pressure on women to be self-sacrificing, nurturing, and accommodating in all instances especially with children. This supposedly comes “naturally” to us (easily debunked by talking to, well, almost any woman or man I know), or so we are taught. This certainly is a major contributor to this problem. Additionally, there is much talk around the world about how much more frequently we’re seeing cases of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. My personal theory is that this is a result of our survivalist wiring. We are wired to survive (or, you might say, chemically balanced to survive) – or at least many of us are. To struggle. To be in a fairly constant state of effort, fear, and concern. In the 21st century things are *pretty* easy for many of us here in this first world country. It almost seems to me like our brains are looking for something to struggle over. We’re looking for a reason to survive. And since we don’t need to survive anymore, our brains just don’t know what the hell to do!
Ironically, those of us who struggle with these things would probably fair quite well in a zombie apocalypse…
So when we have children it’s almost like our minds jump on the opportunity to have something work hard for, to sacrifice for. Only we don’t have the emotional maturity for it because we haven’t had a lot of practice, so we end up WAY overdoing it and making ourselves miserable in the process. Life is full of Catch 22’s isn’t it?
So what do we do with that? We have to adjust. We have to start teaching our brains to live in the 21st century. I imagine it will eventually get easier for our offspring (assuming there’s no apocalypse, zombie takeover, or reckoning, in which case I’ll be the chick in the torn tank top with a machete and a crossbow), but we have to start that process. So…
Start doing things that make you happy
Don’t just give yourself permission every once in a while to be happy; start doing things that make you happy today. Of course, of course, having children requires sacrifice. You really can’t help that – in fact, in my life I’ve discovered that from a few months into pregnancy through the first year or so after birth, you’re pretty much in a constant state of “blaaaaaaaaaaag” (at least I am. I understand there are those of you that love this stage. I’ve never met one of you…) But as they grow older you have a responsibility to them. A responsibility to show them how to navigate life as an independent, confident human being. That could mean a lot of things: maybe they still choose to dedicate their lives to a nonprofit, a religion, or to stay home with their children, but it will come from a place of surety and confidence. It will be 100% their choice, and they will do it because it makes them happy, not despite what makes them happy.
Plus, you’re just as important as your kids
You deserve to prioritize yourself. I hope I’ve driven that point home enough on this blog. If you’re one of those people stuck in a position of constant self-sacrifice and you feel you’d like higher self-esteem or confidence in your knowledge and love of yourself, try sitting down with a piece of paper and a pen – I mean iPad or smartphone!!! – and list out the things that make you happy. If you’re at home with your kids would you rather be working? If you’re working would you rather be at home with your kids? What hobbies do you enjoy? What new things would you like to try? Do you need a larger support system of friends? Do you need more time to yourself? Then select the ones you can start changing now. Obviously you can’t change all of them right away, some maybe not for a while, but do what you can with what you have. Work to make yourself happier. And if you find yourself reluctant to implement an activity that you know would make you happy because you feel you must sacrifice it for your children…think again.
Think about how great it would be for them to see you doing something that makes you happy. To see you being a human being.
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