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Secure Your Mask First

June 20, 2010

How many times have we heard the flight attendant say "secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others"? It's a message aimed largely at travelers with kids, because for so many parents, the natural inclination is to tend to our children before ourselves.

As inclinations go, this one can lead us astray.

Research reported in the June 2006 issue of the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology underscores how much a parent's own psychological condition affects the quality of their parenting, and, in turn, the emotional well-being of the children. Parents who neglect themselves — struggle with untreated depression and anxiety or chronic unhappiness — are likely to parent less effectively. The kids pay the price.

How well are you taking care of your emotional self? How well are you tending to your primary relationship?

Too many of us have allowed our own needs to get buried under the mountain of endless things we do for our kids.

When we run ourselves ragged chauffeuring them everywhere they want to go, or sink into debt buying them all the latest stuff they insist they need, we're going too far. Too often, what we believe is a sacrifice worth making for them doesn't necessarily benefit them in the long run.

Here are some ways to take good care of yourself as a parent:

  • If you're in a committed relationship, leave the guilt — and the children — behind, and insist on regular date nights with your partner. Make your relationship a priority. Its well-being is the foundation of your kids' lives, the basis for their core sense of security. Ultimately, it's more important than tap lessons, math tutoring, or soccer practice every Saturday.
  • Spend time with your friends. It's a way to refuel yourself after working hard all week, whether at home or at the office.
  • Don't be afraid to say "no" to some of your children's requests. It's not your job to keep the kids happy, especially when it takes too much out of you. Also, saying "no" will teach them that there are times in life when keeping others happy shouldn't be our primary purpose.
  • Show the children that you can de-stress after a hard day by slowing down to listen to music, exercise, or sink into a bubble bath.

It's only when you're in good shape that you can do your best at the hardest job of all: being a parent.