You’ve heard it all before. During the monotonous long line of safety procedures before taking off to your final destination, the stewardess stands up in front of the aircraft and announces to the passengers, “Please place the oxygen mask over yourself before assisting a child.”
We get it. How could you possibly be able to save a child in a crisis situation if you’re keeled over in the seat next to them?
This safety instruction holds a powerful parenting lesson. For many of us, when it comes to day to day parenting, we rarely “place our oxygen mask on first”. For one, as a parent, there is a strong stigma when it comes to taking care of yourself first. Second, it’s primal instinct to make sure our kid’s needs are met before our own. This is especially true when a child is struggling; we feel an incredible impulse to “fix it” even if it means running ourselves ragged in the process.
At Erika’s Lighthouse, we believe one of the best lessons we can teach our kids is the importance of good mental health, and the strongest way to send this message is being a good model of it. So, what does it mean to take care of ourselves and what are the things we need to model to our children?
An emotional vocabulary
It’s important to talk about feelings in front of our children. If you come home and you’ve had a bad day at work, it’s okay to say that you are feeling disappointed about something that didn’t go the way you would’ve liked, and that you need twenty minutes to take a hot bath and relax before you hang out with the family. Without communicating how we feel, we leave it up to others to figure out why our behavior has changed. Being transparent about how we feel communicates that talking about feelings is acceptable and welcomed.
Much of our world exists in our minds, whether we’re worried about a looming deadline or a relationship conflict has us mulling the scenario over and over. Whatever it is, it takes away from us being present in our lives and with the people that we love. When we take time to be present, we communicate to our children that we’re placing importance on the people and things in front of us, and we are also more efficient and successful in our projects and relationships, too.
Problem solving skills
Life isn’t perfect, but what makes an obstacle manageable is having skills to persevere. Our kids need these skills to grow into self-sufficient adults. They need to deal with difficult situations without our interference, and to learn this, they need to see us utilizing our skills. So, what does that look like? It looks like saying “sorry” when sorry is due or working through a difficult situation with a calm approach and creative solutions.
A healthy lifestyle and coping skills
Some life troubles can’t be changed, like dealing with a trauma or loss, for example. It is during these times we have to learn to deal with the issue head on, accept it and cope with it to the best of our abilities. This starts with maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly. Our kids also need to see us using other kinds of coping strategies that don’t involve reaching for a glass of vino! Copings skills can include anything from having fun and doing the things we love to do, keeping realistic expectations for ourselves and maintaining a positive outlook.
Parenting is tough; there is no doubt about it. None of us are perfect, and the beauty of it all is that our kids don’t want us or expect us to be perfect. Instead, our children look to us to see that mistakes are acceptable, that we can move through pain and suffering, and that we possess skills to make tough times easier. The more powerful message we can send our kids is that things will turn out okay even when we are not feeling okay in the moment.
There is a saying that, “You are as only as happy as your unhappiest child”. But, we are challenging you to consider that our kids can only be as happy and healthy as we are. When we are reflecting on our parenting, know that being a great parent is about being the best you – imperfections, resilience and all.