This question pops up time and time again in our interactions with users so we thought we would give a little more detail around this area.
As I write this it is not from a position of a perfect parent with a perfect family and perfect children. They do not exist. I can, however, write from the perspective of someone who helps people deal with emotional challenges every day and who can see the impact those can have, or have already had, on children.
Here are some areas that provide the more obvious challenges to us as we become parents. They are big areas for us to work on and if you read this and feel overwhelmed just take a step back and pause. Working on one of these areas small step by small step consistently over time is a great place to start.
Babies, toddlers and teenagers do not come with a handbook, a quick start guide or a troubleshooting guide. They are an amazing gift for us all to receive and they come with a huge sense of responsibility. They can bring an abundance of happiness and can also leave us paralysed with fear. For such a great responsibility there is no instruction manual.
The good news is that we are all in the same boat and sometimes accepting that we will make mistakes, and we are all learning as we go along, takes a little of the performance pressure off and we can relax. A tense and anxious parent is likely to bring up a tense and anxious child.
Children learn through role modeling more than anything else and parents are their strongest role models. How we deal with conflict, stress and the general challenges of daily life will be picked up by them.
Many parents have reflected on the mistakes that they have made in life and seek to point this out to their children, so that they do not make the same mistakes. Sometimes children listen and sometimes they don’t.
If the message we give as parents is congruent then it is more effective. If I say one thing and then my behaviour shows something different my children are more likely to act the way I behave not the way I tell them to behave.
This role modelling cascades down the rest of this article.
From the moment we have a child this part of our emotional health can be under attack. There may be no instruction manual but what is available is a great deal of conflicting advice. “Do this…”, “don’t do that…”. Strict boundaries, no boundaries. So much unregulated, unrestricted advice (normally linked to product sales) means that a new parent can find themselves and their sense of self esteem dropping downwards rapidly.
Just to make you feel worse, the role modeling can really kick in here. If you have healthy self esteem then chances are your child will pick up from you healthy self esteem. However, if deep down you do not like, love or respect yourself enough then your ability to unconditionally love your child and imbibe them with a healthy sense of esteem will be severely limited.
For me, working on this area is an essential part of being a parent. It gives me the essential foundations for good emotional and mental health which in turn get transferred to my children.
If self love sounds corny, believe me it is not. It is as important as self respect. The clue in the word “self” and all of us could do with developing our internal validation. It is so important. Believing in our own self worth means we rely less on the validation of others for our happiness. That is what self esteem is essentially about.
For more detail about taking care of your own emotional needs and thus your self esteem see our article: Self Esteem – why looking after your own emotional needs is not selfish, but necessary.
Our relationship with stress is really about our relationship with fear and of course there is plenty of that in parenthood.
The stress we attract into our lives is related to our need for approval, whether we prioritise ourselves, how much pressure we put ourselves under, our inability to let go of control and our lack of trust in others or ourselves. There’s a lot to deal with there alone, and then remember the role modelling effect.
Develop a healthy relationship with stress and your child will follow.
This does not mean never taking risks and having no stress. Stepping out of our comfort zone, stretching ourselves and feeling scared is an essential part of the human experience. Dealing with it in a really healthy way is the aim.
For more on your relationship with stress see this earlier article about our stress triggers: What are your real stress triggers and what can you do about them?
The way we look after ourselves can be a really visual representation of how we feel about ourselves. Self care links back to self esteem and our relationship with stress. The link between our physical selves and our emotional selves is obvious. How we feel about ourselves physically and emotionally can impact both areas. Again, our role modelling can be highly influential. How much exercise I do and the types of food and drink I consume and whether or not I smoke will all be picked up by my children.
One of the biggest dilemmas of parenting is how much help to give our children. A balance needs to be struck and it can feel almost impossible to get right. Too much turns them into helpless children incapable of sorting their own problems out. Too little could lead to them feeling unsupported and developing unhealthy coping mechanisms.
It is perfectly natural for a parent to support and protect their children especially in a way that they may not feel they experienced when they were children. A child developing their ability to solve problems both logistical and emotional, is an essential life skill. This area will be impacted for us personally by our experiences as we grew up and our overall relationship with fear, i.e. stress.
Understand more about the signs you may be a rescuer here: 3 signs you have an inner rescuer and why that can be unhealthy.
Dealing with feeling
In general, children are better at talking about how they feel than us adults are. Adults, over time, disable this skill by either appearing not interested or overreacting when they do share important feelings. This is mainly because we are not good at talking about our feelings and are often even worse at listening to others talking about how vulnerable they feel.
Developing a healthy relationship with our feelings will enable us to help and support our children. When we are able to assertively describe how we are feeling and the effect it is having on our behaviour, it shows our children one way to deal with how they are feeling. This can help, both as a positive role model and in helping them build their own skills rather relying on you to rescue them.
Read more about dealing with feeling here: Dealing with feeling.
That’s a lot to throw at you. In summary, if you want to be the best parent you can, building your emotional resilience and doing it in a healthy way is essential to both you and your children’s mental and emotional health.