Parenting ‘experts’ most often focus on what parents can do for their children—how to toilet train, how to deal with fussy eaters, how to get a good bedtime routine, how to manage screen time etc. Very rarely do we have parenting experts talking about the parent’s needs. As a parent myself, who was once a very anxious parent, I understand that we want the best for our children and our families, but I think we often go about that in a counterproductive way.
The maternal sacrifice myth
As parents, we are programmed to nurture and support our children, many times (or most times) at the expense of our own fulfillment and our own dreams. We dig deep, over-schedule, hardly take breaks and collapse at the end of each day—never really getting any appreciation for what we do. How effective is a mother who is not caring for herself? How good can she be if she is not fulfilling her own dreams but only being a facilitator of her child’s dreams? It is as if when we have children something unconscious happens in us that tells us that we have to give up everything we are and everything we want in order to serve our children’s needs and wants.
But what really are we teaching our children when we do this? The wise words of my clinical supervisor ring in my ear “take care of yourself, Saliha, you are modeling self-care for your children.” What am I modeling for my children? Are they seeing self-compassion? Are they seeing a mother who lives a balanced life?
Learning the art of 'taking'
Growing up with a mother that modeled, with perfection, the art of ‘giving,’ I never learned the art of ‘taking’ from someone. I don’t know how to ask for help with grace. I don’t know how much or how little to take so I don’t deplete the other person. I am a masterful giver but a sloppy-taker. This way of being has resulted in periods of depression and care-giver burnout for me (yes there is such a thing as burning out from caring).
Yes, there were times and moments where others gave to me and nurtured me, but I had put myself at their mercy and absolved myself of taking any responsibility for asking from anyone for many reasons. 1. Because I told myself that it was better to give than to take; 2. It’s easier to wait for someone to give then for me to ask; 3. I didn’t know the language of taking. But a few years into my many caring roles (ie my career as a psychologist, a mother of four, as well as a sister, daughter, and friend) I am learning that I have to take ownership of my own care also. This will only make me a fulfilled caregiver and a better role model for those around me.
Responsibility to yourself and your kids
As a parent, it is not our responsibility just to give the best to our children; it is also our responsibility to be the best that we can be. And I believe this starts with giving to ourselves first—mind, body, and soul. Being reminded now of the metaphor of the falling mask in times of a lack of oxygen on the plane: “if you are traveling with the young or elderly, make sure you put the mask on yourself first.” Thus, I have made a decision to teach something different to my children. I want them to learn the give and take of life and relationships. I want them to learn the language of taking what they need. I want them to have compassion and mercy for themselves. I want them to live their own dreams while they have a family. But first I have to start with doing that for myself.