Parenthood, in all of its reward and wonder, has the potential to be one of the most challenging tasks we could ever face in life. The care and concern that a parent has for their child (or children) is a lifelong job that never truly ends, no matter how old a child gets. This, however, is more than can be said for life’s endless supply of uncertainty, which is why it is so important for parents to continually prepare for the unexpected.
Although there is no concrete, detailed definition of what parenthood specifically should or should not entail, I think most people would agree that a parent’s primary job is to raise their child from infancy to adulthood by providing them with the resources and education necessary to successfully do so.
Of course, there is the standard expectation that a parent should provide their child with the most basic necessities for survival, such as food, clothing, and shelter. Some people would surely argue that a cell phone should be included in that list, but that is a debate for another day entirely!
In addition to offering these basic provisions, a parent is tasked with being a guiding light throughout a child’s life. From the mundane to the most extraordinary, children look to their parents for assistance when it comes to discovering, understanding, and dealing with a wide range of curiosities and experiences. Whether they are comforting their teen child following a first breakup or attempting to soothe a toddler’s hundredth temper tantrum, parents find themselves wearing countless hats throughout their parenting career.
Simultaneously serving as a child’s teacher, counselor, financier, disciplinarian, cheerleader and nurse is enough of a challenge on its own, but if being a parent was all anyone ever had to do, it might be deemed as a much easier undertaking than it actually is. But, let’s be honest– no parent is ever just a parent, so it’s not as simple as that, is it?
At the end of the day, parents are still individuals. In addition to helping to orchestrate their children’s lives, they have jobs, bills, aspirations, other relationships, and concerns all of their own; this is where the difficulty of parenting often lies.
Managing your own life circumstances and emotions can often be strenuous even in the best of times, which can make it that much harder to successfully juggle all of the roles and responsibilities a parent is expected to fulfill.
Self-Love Should Be A Parent’s First Priority
Since the foundation of any happy and healthy parent-child relationship is love, the strength of the love that you have for yourself plays a major role in the quality of love you can feasibly extend to your child. This being said, the first step to better parenting is to practice self-love.
In an attempt to fully support their child, it is not uncommon for some parents to routinely sacrifice their own needs and desires. And while doing so certainly has noble motives, self-sacrifice is not always the most sustainable option. In fact, self-neglect can actually produce counterproductive effects for parents who persist in putting themselves last.
I know, I know. For some of you, this first step may seem uncomfortably selfish. At first glance, I would totally agree. I mean, how dare a parent prioritize their own sanity before the needs of their child? The gall, right?
But in all seriousness, self-love, in a healthy context, is the furthest thing from being self-serving. If anything, it takes the needs of others into great consideration because it seeks to correct some of the quirks and stressors that can make us less than pleasing to interact with. When practiced properly, self-love can be one of the most valuable skills a parent can master in order to be the best parent possible to their child/children.
If you are like me and have not yet had children, this is the step I hope you take to heart the most. Not only is self-love potentially the hardest step for people to get accustomed to, but I truly believe it is one of the most important steps you can take in order to prepare for this particular stage of life.
If you can develop a healthy and loving relationship with yourself before bringing children into this world, you will have established such a good foundation for future parenthood. Of course, it won’t eradicate all of the obstacles faced in parenting, but it will put you in a much better position to effectively face them!
What Is Self-Love?
So, if self-love isn’t meant to mirror pure selfishness, what is it? That’s a great question.
According to Merriam-Webster, self-love can be defined as being “an appreciation of one’s own worth or value”, or “a proper regard for and attention to one’s own happiness or well-being”. (There is also a third definition of self-love that has more negative connotations linked to narcissism, but that is definitely NOT the type of self-love that I am here to promote.)
Self-love, as a more general concept, is a hot topic in today’s society. We often hear about the importance of developing confidence and maintaining good self-esteem. All the same, I think people’s perception of self-love often gets a bit watered down to its most basic function.
For many people, self-love is primarily a mindset or habitual practice of thinking positively about oneself. And while this is definitely an important aspect of self-love, I believe there is much more to it, if only we dare to take a closer look.
Overall, the self-love that parents should seek to cultivate and maintain is one that will help them to become a more grounded, self-assured, and well-rounded individual. By achieving this, they will develop the strength and fortitude to be a better provider and emotional support system for their child’s varying needs.
If you are looking to get the very most out of the practice of self-love, a holistic approach is sure to yield the best rewards. Not only do we need to ensure that our inner feelings and thoughts about ourselves are loving and kind, but we also need to partake in activities and make life decisions that align with and support that mindset. In other words, it is important that our feelings and actions properly reflect the love and consideration we have for our personal wellbeing.
Self-love can be demonstrated in many areas of our life, presenting us with endless opportunities to love ourselves better. For instance, demonstrating self-love may influence things such as what we eat, how we spend our resources (time, energy, money), the activities we partake in, the manner in which we care for our body and mind, and even how we allow others to treat us.
As well as considering what we can do today to improve ourselves and our lives, self-love can go a step further by being preventative. By evaluating how today’s actions may negatively or positively impact us in the future, we are able to actually help protect and love our future selves proactively.
What Does Self-Love Have To Do With Parenting?
“You cannot love anyone else until you first learn to love yourself.”
If you’ve heard this phrase once, you’ve surely heard it a million times. And as cliche as it may sound, it’s actually true. Our ability to love and care for others is significantly dependent upon our ability to love and care for our own selves. After all, how can we freely give away something we do not have?
For instance, have you ever experienced how difficult it is to motivate others when you are feeling less than inspired? Or, have you ever tried to help someone else brainstorm solutions to their life problems while under considerable stress yourself? It’s not exactly a walk in the park, is it?
On the other hand, think back to a time when you were feeling your absolute best. Chances are, you had the energy and positive outlook necessary to help pull even your most downtrodden friend out of their funk. Investing in self-love as a parent is exactly like this warm and fuzzy memory. The happier and more secure you can become, the easier it will be for you to really be there for your child.
However, the key to reaching your “happy place” is to make sure that you are treating yourself with the utmost respect and care each and every day of your life.
Unlike our children, no one is off on the sidelines waiting to put colorful bandages on our physical or emotional “booboos” when life throws us curveballs. If you do not make it a priority to love and invest in yourself, who will? But more importantly, if you fail to ensure that you are taking care of yourself as both an individual and a parent, who truly runs the risk of suffering because of it? Just you? Your partner? Your children? Your entire family?
For parents, anything you have done, currently do, and will one day do has the potential to impact your child for better or for worse. Whether it is failing to resolve emotional hangups from the past or making irresponsible health decisions in the present, the way parents manage (or mismanage) their own wellbeing can have far-reaching consequences beyond themselves.
Just as positive influences have the ability to positively impact your children, negative influences have the ability to negatively impact your children. This being said, practicing self-love as a parent can help you to create a life that is of benefit to both you and your child.
The Four Major Objectives Of Parental Self-Love
The actual practice of self-love can take many forms and reach varying depths, depending upon your level of commitment, as well as the time and resources you have available to further develop it.
For some, a step towards self-love might be the adoption of an exercise regimen, which will help them to better combat stress and live a longer, healthier life. For others, a quest for better self-love might lead them to seek the help of a therapist so they can finally unravel the lingering negative effects of a difficult childhood.
No matter what your personal self-love journey ends up looking like, there are four major goals that your work should ideally seek to positively influence: (1) The demonstration of good habits/attitudes for your children; (2) Your ongoing personal growth; (3) Protection against the adoption or creation of dysfunctional familial patterns; and (4) An increased ability to openly receive love from others.
The Demonstration Of Good Habits & Attitudes
Parents, above anyone else, serve as a child’s initial guidebook for how to navigate life. What you say and do in response to circumstances and people matters tremendously because children have an uncanny way of seeing, hearing, and adopting everything.
For example, parents who freely spout “colorful” language among their friends and relatives, but who try to monitor their word choices around their children have learned this concept well! After all, it is no secret that children are highly impressionable beings who are quick to mimic the behaviors and language exhibited by those around them (ie. parents, siblings, etc.).
Unfortunately, children do not cherrypick behaviors to observe and adopt. If they see it, (even when you thought they wouldn’t notice) there is a risk of them repeating it. And even though some parents love to tell their kids, “Do as I say, not as I do”, children rarely operate this way. When deciding how to behave, what they’ve seen/heard often trumps what they “should” do, so in the long run, parents might find it easier to simply practice what they preach.
Even though most parents are conscious of the mimicry of children and try to be mindful of the way they behave in front of them, many parents neglect a major element: how they treat themselves. This being said, if you witnessed your child treating themselves the way you treat yourself, would you be entirely pleased?
When we develop a healthy love for ourselves, how we conduct our life becomes extremely important. Everything from the activities we choose to partake in to the types of individuals we spend time with is dictated by our understanding of what will best support our overall wellbeing. Having respect for ourselves and our physical, mental, emotional, financial, social, and spiritual condition will encourage us to make the best possible decisions we can. Although properly tending to these areas of your life can require a good amount of time and energy, the impact that it can have on your children is invaluable.
By actively caring for yourself on an ongoing basis, you are doing more than merely telling your children how to love themselves– you are actually showing them. If they witness you doing things such as eating healthy or working hard to reach important goals, it is more likely that they will follow your good example. The more you can personally demonstrate and normalize the right behaviors, the harder it will be for outside influences to corrupt and override your good intentions.
And even if your child temporarily deviates from what you’ve modeled for them, your efforts will rarely be in vain. In the event that a child strays from a parent’s teachings–as many children tend to temporarily do–the chances of them eventually returning to the fundamental lessons you’ve preached are quite good, providing you have been as consistent as possible in following them as well. In parenting, as with many other undertakings in life, consistency is key.
In general, people are far more receptive to the promptings of others when they know that there is some experiential knowledge supporting their claims, or that the giver of advice actually lives by their own doctrine.
On the other hand, hypocrisy can be a huge demotivator– especially for children and teens! For instance, have you ever seen what happens when a parent tries to scold a child for doing or saying something that they are personally guilty of? Often, the child is quick to point out the unfairness of the situation, which can easily lead them into further rebellion.
Therefore, one of the very best ways to encourage your children to adopt and practice beneficial habits/attitudes is by actually walking the walk, opposed to simply talking the talk.
Your Ongoing Personal Growth
Another targeted outcome of developing a deeper degree of care for your wellbeing is your continual growth as a person. Despite it being a parent’s job to help support their children while they develop, children aren’t the only ones who need to learn and grow! Regardless of our age, we should all continuously strive to become slightly better versions of ourselves each and every day. After all, life is not static; it is an ever-evolving, vibrant amalgamation of new discoveries, technologies, and exploits. So, if life never stands still, why on Earth should we?
There are numerous benefits to pursuing personal growth as a part of your self-love journey. This can include benefits such as increased life satisfaction, the discovery of new gifts and talents, lowered stress via improved coping methods, greater earning power, new social connections, and expanded intellectual capabilities– the list truly goes on and on.
And for as many potential benefits await an individual who dares to challenge themselves, there are just as many avenues to explore. Whether you return to school to receive training in a new field, take up a new sport that you’ve always been too afraid to try, or decide to tackle a pesky bad habit once and for all, any step outside of your comfort zone is one worth taking.
Just because you are a parent doesn’t mean that your own life has to end. So many people abandon their dreams when they become parents, as though their only hope of reclaiming their personal life is to wait until their children are old enough to move out. This is hardly the case!
Sure, life does change once you have children; there is no doubt about that. You may not have as much disposable income to spend purely on yourself, and you may no longer have as much personal free time, but it’s all in the way that you view things. Becoming a parent doesn’t make you undeserving of personal enjoyment or less desiring of certain goals. In fact, your aspirations may be even more valid now that you have little ones to inspire!
By investing in your own growth, you are ensuring that you remain fully engaged in the here and now. You are also helping to make sure that the rigors of parenthood don’t leave you with tunnel vision or the inability to enjoy everything life has to offer. After all, life can easily become a mundane flurry of work shifts and dirty diapers if that’s the only thing you allow yourself to focus on or devote time and energy to. It is very important for parents to retain and develop the aspects of their personality that make them who they are or else life can become unncessarily dull, stressful, and stagnant.
Besides, by setting aside time to focus on self-improvement through self-love, parents can help give their children the space they need to investigate who they are and what they like. Parents who devote too much free time to tending to their children (Yes, that is actually possible!) sometimes run the risk of becoming “helicopter parents”, continually micromanaging their child’s every action. Although it is good for a parent to take genuine interest in a child’s life and be fully aware of what is going on with them, routinely crowding a child is never healthy for the child or the parent.
Working on your own development can not only help you become a more fascinating and well-rounded person for your child to learn from, but it can also lead you to expose your children to new and exciting things they may have never explored on their own.
For instance, someone who decides to start a business will be able to teach their children the ins and outs of entrepreneurship. A parent who pursues the acquisition of a foreign language can inspire their child to take an interest in international cuisine and travel. Parents who are unafraid to try new activities and branch out are far more likely to have children who grow up to do the same.
This being said, make time to explore your personal needs and desires in a manner that still allows you to be present with your children. For instance, if you’d like to learn new skills, but money and time are of concern, check out super convenient websites/apps such as LinkedIn Learning (formerly known as Lynda), Coursera, FutureLearn, and Masterclass. Not only can you easily access a wide variety of online courses (many with bonafide certifications), but many of these courses are relatively low cost or even free! Who knows? You may even discover an enriching activity that you and your child can explore together!
Protection Against Dysfunctional Familial Patterns
A third major benefit of parental self-love is the ability to protect against the creation or furtherance of dysfunctional family attitudes and/or behaviors. In life, parents desperately wish to shield their child from anything that has the potential to harm them; many of these things tend to be outside influences. However, it is not terribly uncommon for us to have worrisome things to protect our children from that are actually inherited.
Just as we inherit family attributes such as personality quirks, bone structure, and hair thickness, we can also “inherit” things from our family members that are not so welcome.
The way that we were raised and the things we’ve personally been exposed to as children can play a tremendous role in the way we live our adult lives. Whether we are cognizant of it or not, it is likely that many of us have picked up less than ideal behavioral patterns or belief systems from our parents and/or other family members. From minor annoyances to the severely debilitating, there are many different patterns that can be passed down to us from parent to child, from one generation to the next.
Can you identify any trends that have existed in your own background? Perhaps there is a serious health condition or history of addiction that has seemingly plagued your family. Maybe there is a trend of divorce or toxicity. In some families there may be a tendency to constantly indulge in and stir up needless drama.
No matter what the reoccuring pattern is for your family, you do not have to allow history to repeat itself through you. With the right resources, it is possible for you to disown your “inheritance” and spare your children the burden of falling victim to the very same cycle.
Please allow me to share my own personal experience in ending a potential negative family cycle. Unlike many women, I haven’t spent much of my adult life dreaming of having children. When I was younger, I thought it might be nice to start a family one day, but it was never the “burning desire” I had so often heard other women talk about. And even on days when motherhood fleetingly sounded more appealing than usual, I can’t say that I was ever in an intense hurry to see it come to pass! 😂
Of course, my mentality has changed more and more over time. Although my biological clock still hasn’t started ticking, I eventually decided that parenthood might not be as distant a goal as it once was. So, in the last few years, I’ve started evaluating my personal fitness to be a parent. Despite identifying many good parental qualities, I discovered one particular issue that genuinely concerned me. Without fixing this issue, I knew I would not be the best parent I could be.
Growing up, I unintentionally adopted many dysfunctional thought patterns relating to weight, food, and body image, much of which stemmed from being influenced by a very close family member who exhibited highly disordered eating behaviors. After a period of being exposed to these unhealthy behaviors and philosophies, they began to establish themselves as a part of my own experience. Over time, they became so deeply engrained in my psyche that I erroneously believed them to be correct and normal.
Up until this time last year, there were instances when I struggled to disassociate myself from the mindset I had adopted as a young child, so I seriously feared what might happen if I went on to unintentionally expose my children to the same things I’ve experienced.
Instead of giving up on the idea of having children altogether, I actively set out to eradicate the negative programming that I had inherited so long ago. Through the practice of forgiveness for myself and others, personal reflection, a deeper investment in my spiritual life, and several lifestyle changes, I was successfully able to end behaviors and dispel beliefs that had negatively impacted me for much of my life. As a result, I no longer fear that I might expose my children to inappropriate ideals and habits.
More than likely, my own self-love journey would not have come about if it hadn’t been for a strong desire to protect my future family, but the positive impact of that journey has largely transformed other areas of my life as well. It is my hope that by committing to love yourself more fully, you too will be able to free yourself and your children from whatever generational curses and issues have kept your family in bondage.
An Increased Ability To Receive Love
One important objective of learning how to love yourself more fully is to also learn how to receive the love that others wish to extend to you– specifically your children.
Perhaps you have come across individuals who suffer from low self-esteem and diminished confidence. They often have difficulty accepting praise or compliments. They may also struggle to form close relationships with others. It can be a challenge to build meaningful connections with people who feel this way because there always seems to be an invisible barrier or limit to how close they will allow you to get to them.
Self-love is a valuable thing to practice as a parent because it will greatly improve your ability to be more open and emotionally available to your child. Children desperately need to receive and give love in order to develop strong bonds with their parents, learn how to establish healthy friendships (and later romantic relationships), and nuture their own inner being.
Unfortunately, some parents find it hard to accept the love that their children wish to show them. This can be the result of having not experienced emotional closeness with their own parents, exposure to traumatic experiences, failed romantic relationships, or even feelings of unworthiness.
Having a heightened ability to receive love from your child can help them to feel validated and acknowledged. Being emotionally cut off from parents can cause children to believe that there is something wrong with them, leading them to then question why their love is being rejected. Over time, these feelings can result in children feeling unwanted and unlovable, which can negatively impact their ability to form healthy, loving connections with others throughout their life.
In order to help your child adequately learn how to love themselves and others, it is critical that you are able to participate in the reciprocal exchange of love with them, as it can make all the difference in their life… and yours.
Self-Love Systems Check
Now that we’ve discussed how self-love can help you to become a better parent, you may wish to start looking into how you can start or enrich your own self-love journey.
To help you guys get off on the right foot, I have created a free Self-Love Checklist, which you may view and complete. The checklist isn’t specific to parents, so please feel free to share it with anyone you feel could benefit from it.
To access the checklist, you may click the link below or visit the Resources page:
Once you are equipped with the checklist, you can use it to help you identify potential areas for improvement, as well as aspects of self-love that you are already stellar at maintaining.
By no means is this checklist intended to make anyone feel bad about themselves! There is no “grade” or right or wrong answers, so feel free to answer the questions as honestly as you can. The goal is not to mark off every section perfectly (I sure couldn’t and I made the thing, lol)–but kudos to you if you can! Instead, I simply wish to help people take a closer look at the way they care for themselves.
If you finish the checklist feeling content about your self-care routine, by all means, keep on keeping on! However, if you are like me, and you find yourself acknowledging that there are things you could do a bit better, be open to that realization and flow with it. The only way any of us can improve upon the way we love ourselves is to acknowledge our weaknesses and get to work sorting them out.
As a final note for the first step of the series, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes of all time (and my mantra for 2020).
The words are straight out to the mouth of RuPaul, who is not only fabulous, but one of the people I most admire for their overabundance of self-confidence. Regardless of whether or not you are into his whole drag persona, I personally love how unapologetically in-tune he is with the person he’s chosen to be.
When it comes to self-love, one of the hardest things to accomplish is not discovering more about the person you’re trying to love, but believing that they’re actually worthy of that love. We can make so many excuses as to why other people are deserving of our time, energy, and attention, but when it comes to us, we can be so quick to justify why we can’t care for ourselves better.
None of us are perfect, and at one point or another, we all fall short of our own expectations for ourselves. However, it can be exceedingly difficult to fully practice self-love when we start allowing ourselves to excessively acknowledge or place too much emphasis on our shortcomings and failures.
“Look at the darkness, but don’t stare.”
I really love this saying. I think it’s the perfect advice for anyone who struggles to love themselves for any reason. Whether the negative views you have of yourself are legitimate or not, never allow it to consume you.
You are more than your mistakes. You are more than your inadequacies. You are more than your past or your present. Yes, we all need to take an honest look at ourselves every now and again so we can evaluate what changes can be made, but never allow what darkness you discover to paralyze you.
So many people want to love themselves better, build brighter futures, and live happier lives. However, when they start to work towards those goals they just freeze up. It can be really overwhelming to feel that you don’t measure up to this standard or that, but that’s why self-love is so important.
No matter what anyone says or does, and no matter how you may sometimes feel about yourself, always remember that you are worthy of a fulfilling life. We will never have the opportunity to live the life of another person, so it is important for us to value the life we have being the person we truly are.
See the darkness, acknowledge your problems, but don’t stare. There’s light out there too, but you’ll never find it if you don’t look elsewhere.
I truly hope this first step has been helpful for you guys. Whether you skipped around or read it all the way through, I thank you for taking the time to do so. If you’re interested in reading more, please join me again for a look at Step Two of this series: Love Others.
© C.M. 2020 All Rights Reserved
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