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Parenting and Self-Care – Crashing the ‘Helicopter Parenting’ myth

In a recent discussion with some friends of mine, both men and women, it came up in the conversation that society for a long time has peddled a myth that it is a selfish act to take care of ourselves. It was even suggested that one of the worst things you can accuse a woman of is to tell her that she is ‘selfish’.

There is such an ingrained belief in our society that we should place the needs of others above our own and only attend to our own needs when all else has been taken care of. We seem to believe that it is a selfish thing to take care of ourselves.

Nowhere is this belief more obvious than in parenting. As a parent myself I know I have many times neglected my own health and wellbeing in the name of making sure my children’s needs are constantly met. It is easy to feel a slave or servant to parenting and our children. Exhaustion, frustration, resentment and tension are just some of the outcomes of this approach to parenting.

Is it no wonder then when we parent in this way we are relieved when we get some time on our own, or when the kids go back to school after the holidays?

It is common to feel the need to relieve ourselves of the pressure and tension we constantly put ourselves under. Do we then turn to alcohol, smoking, filling ourselves with excess food and unhealthy junk food, or watching copious amounts of TV etc . . . ?

Is there a way to live and parent that does not have this daily tension in it, rather than simply coping and getting by with strategies to manage this?

Could simply living with more self-care be an important first step in addressing this tension?

This is not to suggest that we neglect our children in any way. But rather we place ourselves as true equals to our children with an equal right to love and care as them, showing them the way. As true role models we can deeply care for ourselves, offering a real quality of care and way of living for everyone.

So we might be going through the motions and ticking the boxes in terms of doing things for our children and families and we may pride ourselves on being at our children’s beck and call, but what is the real quality of this? And what is the quality of our relationships and level of connection as a result?

If we are tired, anxious, stressed, even resentful or feeling hard done by, surely it is impossible for these emotions to not affect the quality of what we are doing on a daily basis.

Have we really questioned whether this model of parenting is working? Have we considered the effects of how we are parenting and the impact on our own and our children’s health and wellbeing? Surely parenting should be something that nurtures a person, not grinds them down or burns them out? However, burnout is the reality that many parents face every day. Self-care when fully understood is an answer to this trend.

In my own experience the only way it is possible to have the quality of connection and relationships is through self-care first. If I do not care for myself I am not caring with others – simple.

I have heard of the term ‘helicopter parenting’, which describes really well the approach many parents take to parenting, whereby they hover around attending to their children’s every need and desire, and this is actually championed as a great thing to do.

I have also witnessed how normalised it has become for parents to moan at each other about how hard they have it with their children.

So it seems completely accepted as normal behaviour to exhaust ourselves looking after our children whilst not taking care of ourselves – and then moan about it with each other like some kind of warped rite of passage of parenting!

And what message are we really passing on here to our children when they witness our manic martyrdom behaviour? Are they not learning to do the same and so repeat the cycle with their own children one day? And thus this pattern of behaviour is normalised – entrenched in society – and therefore passed down from generation to generation with millions of parents worldwide simply accepting that this is how it is and that there is no other way.

However there is another way, and that is through developing more care for ourselves in all aspects of daily life, including parenting.

I have discovered that when I truly look after myself, I feel so much better equipped to really care for and connect with my children, so that these days (without perfection) I really enjoy being with my children and caring for them. It is not a chore or a burden and as a result I am not hanging out for ‘my time’ on my own. The more I have practised self-care, the less tension, exhaustion, stress and resentment I feel, and therefore the less craving I have for those relieving behaviours that only lead to more tension, exhaustion and stress in the longer term.

Together with my wife we have also encouraged in our children an equality and shared responsibility for taking care of the home and each other. As a result I do not feel like a slave or a helicopter or manic martyr, but a guardian and elder who is learning and sharing life together in equality and connection with my children.

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ExhaustionFamilyHealthy RelationshipsParenting Raising children

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    By Andrew Mooney, Chartered Physiotherapist, Complementary Health Practitioner, Researcher and Presenter.

    I am fascinated and endlessly curious about the human body and the magic and order of how it works and moves. I am equally fascinated by people and discovering the common elements that make us all one human family.

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    Photography: Rebecca Wingrave, Photography, Mother