The latest report from the Growing up in Ireland study of children was published a few weeks ago. They found that babies whose parents were more sensitive in their interactions with them had higher developmental scores.
I’ve been a parent for seven and a half years and in that time I have worried and stressed about different things to do with my children’s well-being for large parts of every day. My usual port of call would be the internet to look for some reassurance from the Google Gods, but I’ve started to find the unending wall of parent shaming ‘Good Parents Don’t Need Sleep’ and ‘Forty-thousand Ways to Entertain Your Child Using Your Own Hair’ type sites too soul destroying to read any more.
And now, not only are we being told we have to get everything right all the time with our kids or face vague but DIRE consequences, we’re also being told that if we get stressed about all the effort we are putting in, that will damage our kids too. This has gone too far. I’m calling an intervention. We have hounded ourselves far enough and pushed ourselves to breaking point and beyond and its time that parents reclaim some ground.
Instead of feeling guilty for letting our kids watch TV or eat crisps or play video games, we need to start telling ourselves that we are HEROES. Every story we read, every lunch we pack, every nose we wipe, every uniform we wash, every spill we clean, every tear we dry, every hug we give should be accompanied by wild applause. Instead of hating ourselves for the times we lose our tempers or make a mistake, we need to congratulate ourselves for the far more numerous times we get it right.
We need to high five other parents we pass in Dunnes or Tescos because even getting as far as the shop – with a list! – is a serious undertaking that requires skills worthy of an army general planning a war. We need to ignore the ‘How to Parent’ guides written by people who apparently never get tired or bored or have needs or interests of their own, and acknowledge our own expertise, value our own achievements and recognize all that we do brilliantly with our kids.
Which brings me back to the intervention. TV shows us perfect parents all the time – in real life of course there is no such thing as perfection. There is no such thing as getting it right all the time. Nobody knows what they are doing and everyone is just winging it and hoping to get it right more often than they mess it up. That’s what real parenting is like, and it’s what it should be like because our children learn from us about how to be adults. So we need to be asking ourselves what kind of adults we would like our children to be and then we need to show them how to do that by doing it ourselves. This is what I want my kids to know:
- It’s ok to make mistakes and that saying sorry can fix almost anything – and they won’t know this unless they see me making mistakes and apologizing and being forgiven by them.
- It’s ok to need help and it’s ok to ask for it – and they won’t know this unless they see me do it.
- It’s ok to have a bad day – but they won’t know this unless they see me having one and surviving.
- That life as an adult is fun – but they won’t know that unless they see me having some.
- Having friends when you’re grown up is as important as when you are a kid – but they won’t know that unless they see me having and cherishing them.
- They need to take lots of breaks when they’re grown-ups – but they won’t know that’s ok unless they see me taking them.
So what it all boils down to is self-care. We need to be kinder to ourselves. We need to praise ourselves for the million little things we do brilliantly every day, very often when we are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. We need to build in more time for ourselves, to eat properly, sleep well, exercise and get fresh air and sunlight, to have fun with friends, to relax and to make sure that we do something we enjoy every single day. By doing this we are reducing our own stress, which most importantly increases our own well being and has the happy knock-on effect of giving us the energy to be better people to our kids, friends and partners. We are also giving our children the lifelong gift of knowing how to be happy themselves when they are adults.
Recent research from the US has changed how we understand the impact of stress on us. Scientists and psychologists now believe that stress can be a good thing as long as we do one vital thing – talk about it with someone who understands.
LoveParenting is a project that appreciates the power of a group of like minded individuals coming together to support each other. So know that you are not the only one out there that finds parenting stressful, be sure to talk about it and be good to yourself. Remember, you are a hero!
Provided by Karen Sugrue. Karen Sugrue is a parent, a psychotherapist and a Sociology lecturer at LIT– follow her on Twitter at @irishlimericker. Check out Karen’s other Love Parenting article “Self Care for Heroes: Meeting our own needs” by Clicking Here.