Valentine’s Day is coming, a time when we think about our love and caring for others. For parents, the way we show our love for our child can be directly connected to how we take care of ourselves.
As an anonymous quote says, “Before others can drink from my cup, it must be filled.” Parents often think that taking care of themselves is selfish. After all, as parents we have a lot of demands on our days. Milk spills, the kids whine, the toilet clogs, the bills pile up, and there is always more to do at the job. Even if we started the day in a good mood and full of energy, our cup can be drained by the end of the day.
Every day we are bombarded by images of the stress-free ‘perfect families’ we see in the media. The mother is on time for work, her house looks great and so does she. Dad works too; he also does the dishes and helps the children with their homework. The children eat all the healthy food put in front of them and always put away their toys. And when things get too tough, the family simply takes that fabulous get-away vacation.
For a family living in the real world, it can be difficult to align these images with day-to-day life. Dads or moms may be raising their children on their own. They could be struggling with bills, health problems or holding onto their jobs.
Whether we are dealing with huge problems or everyday hassles, we parents need to keep our cups full. We can’t easily solve long-term serious problems; however, there are small things we can do that help. They don’t have to cost a lot of money or take a lot of time. For example, one of my friends feels pampered and elegant if she eats with a chilled fork. Another friend said that she always feels good when she makes time to take a walk with her friend. A dad told me he gets recharged if he can sit on the sofa and read a magazine after the kids are in bed or when he makes time to shoot a few hoops.
In our Parenting Now! groups, we sometimes give parents a card to help them commit to doing something nurturing for themselves. It’s a simple, fill-in-the-blank statement: “I, (name), will (enjoyable activity) as a nurturing activity for myself.” Thus, it could say, “I, Lisa, will make time to call my sister as a nurturing activity for myself.”
The point is not what we do, it’s finding healthy things that help to fill our cups.
It also helps when we have a network of friends and family to support us. Traditionally, parents have raised children with the help of “extended family systems.” Now, however, most of us don’t have nearby grandmas and grandpas, sisters and cousins to give us perspective on parenting or a break when we need it.
Unfortunately, our society makes an assumption that becoming a parent means we can do it all by ourselves. At Parenting Now!, we encourage parents to give each other the kind of support they need. By helping each other, getting together outside of their groups and developing friendships, they are making the connections that help them as parents to fill their cups.
Being a parent is one of the most rewarding and challenging things we will ever do. We can be most effective in this role and enjoy it much more when we have realistic expectations of ourselves and our children, when we fill our cups and when we allow ourselves to give and receive support from others.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Minalee Saks, M.S., is the founding director emerita of Parenting Now! She is an author of numerous parenting curricula. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parenting support and education. Explore this site; visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram; or call 541-484-5316. Family Info Line is also available; call 211, extension 5, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.