We all want our baby’s entry into the world to be ‘perfect’. We want nothing less for their nursery, nutrition, stimulation and milestone progress. But the lofty ideal of perfection might be getting in the way of being present – and being truly happy.
“We need to acknowledge that, as new parents, this is the time when we feel most vulnerable, and many of us are not very comfortable with this,” says Lizanne du Plessis, occupational therapist and parenting coach.
Real-life parenting is loud, messy, fussy, exhausting and exhilarating. It is not often going to fit the ideals of pre-parenthood. That’s because there is no ‘perfect’ parent, child or situation. We need to stop striving for perfection and enjoy the moments in front of us, remembering that we are better parents when we take care of ourselves too.
“I believe we need to be intentional about looking after ourselves. The flight attendant who tells us that in an emergency we need to put our own oxygen masks on before assisting others is a good reminder that looking after ourselves is vital in order to look after others,” says Lizanne.
Nurturing ourselves doesn’t mean going to a spa every other day. “When my children were little, we lived in a small house in England and I didn’t have much help. I remember throwing a blanket over my head in the middle of the kitchen and telling the kids that was my den and for the next few minutes and nobody was allowed to come in and disturb me. Then, I would take out my favourite chocolate and enjoy the smell, taste and texture of every little bite without sharing it with anyone!
On another occasion I locked myself in the bathroom at noon, lit the candles, put my favourite playlist on and told them they could watch TV for a whole hour (my kids could not believe their luck!),” she says.
Nurturing means being kind to yourself, loving yourself and believing that you are good enough. Isn’t this the attitude we want our children to see and learn from us?
Child development author, Joseph Chilton Pearce, wrote: ‘What we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.’ It is only when we love and truly accept ourselves as we are that we are able to connect with them in a deep and meaningful way.
Children do not benefit from a ‘martyr mom’
Children do not benefit from a ‘martyr mom’. When we are relaxed, well rested and nourished, we are much more able to be calm, attentive, fun, loving and conscious parents (choosing our reactions deliberately and carefully). When we are physically and emotionally depleted, tired, hungry and grumpy, this is when we are more likely to throw out low quality knee-jerk reactions to our children’s ever-present questions and demands.
Parents who nurture themselves are more likely to teach and parent deliberately and with joy. Joyful parents know a thing or two, and it’s got nothing to do with ‘perfect’ sleep patterns, flawless Disney murals or the ultimate baby food.
Kids keep us busy. In reality we don’t get half the things done we did before we had kids. If we set unrealistic expectations, feelings of frustration, resentment, guilt and shame may set in, which affects our self-worth and our relationships with our kids. Change your “To-do-lists” to “I-would-like-to-lists”. In the early days, aim for just the essentials, such as:
Our imperfection shows our children that we can have a bad day and make mistakes – and this opens the way for them to accept their own mistakes. They learn that this world is not one where everything goes to plan every time, leaving room for flexibility, change and solutions development. It’s okay to get it wrong sometimes and it’s okay if things get messy; those are all inevitable and perfectly acceptable parts of parenting!
Often to find our self-worth as parents we look to our left and to our right; we constantly compare ourselves and out children. No two families are the same and comparison can result in resentment, unrealistic expectations and anxiety. Rather embrace your unique temperament styles and decide on values that define who you are as a family. Rather, practice respecting your friends’ differences and honouring their choices and parenting styles rather than feeling that you are being judged or judging them.
Our parenting journey is filled with ups and downs and characterised by different seasons. Embrace these! Stop wishing for this or that to pass. When we do this, we are less engaged with what is going on in the moment. Your child needs a mom who is present, attentive, warm and engaging right now, in this moment.
As you practice these five strategies, and make a habit of nurturing yourself, you will find you have plenty in your own emotional cup to fill your children’s.
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