After almost a decade of writing about parenting, and 16 years as a parent myself, there’s only one thing I know for sure: happy people raise happy kids.
It makes sense, of course. While there’s no doubt that happy people can and do raise unhappy kids (we have all been there, some more than others), I just can’t see how the opposite can be true. I just can’t see how miserable, mixed-up, permanently-anxious people can raise happy, well-adjusted, resilient teens. (Of course, mixed-up, unhappy, anxious teens often grow into full-functioning, happy adults, so there is that…)
The thing is: unless we sort out our own heads, how are we ever going to raise kids with their own on straight?
The more I have researched parenting, the more I have learned that the absolute best thing we can do for our kids is to do the work on ourselves. That means taking time to focus on ourselves each and every day. It’s not ‘being selfish’. It’s not ‘neglecting the kids’. And it’s for darn sure not ‘being a bad mother’.
More on this: To be a good mum, raise yourself first
Focus on your own happiness
Focusing on yourself makes you the best possible mum because you are striving to be the best possible you. Putting yourself first does exactly the same thing. It’s the difference between putting up with things and allowing others to treat us badly, or standing up for ourselves and drawing firm boundaries around what we will and will not put up with. In other words, precisely the kind of thing we are trying to teach our kids to master.
We’ve all recited the ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’ metaphor, but how many mothers actually do it in real life? There is still a prevailing sense that we are somehow failing our kids if we put ourselves first.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There is substantial research that indicates that parental depression has a negative impact on children’s wellbeing, behaviour and general outcomes. I don’t list that here to make anyone feel worse about the way they are already feeling – that is not the case at all. I do think it’s important to highlight that doing what you need to do to increase your own happiness level is the best possible thing you can do for your kids.
Another one to ponder: be the change you want to see in your children.
Finding thinking time
Perhaps it’s easier for me to talk about self-care and self-fulfillment because my kids are older now – all in high school. Life is definitely just as busy as ever, but it’s a different kind of busy. I find there is a lot more time for myself now that the kids are independent, with their own lives. Rather than ‘wasting’ that time filling it with the kind of ‘busy work’ that modern life has no shortage of, I’ve tried instead to fill it with self-reflection.
These helped me too: 10 wellbeing podcasts that will help you feel better
For instance, there’s plenty of time for self-reflection in the car. I clock up roughly an hour and a half driving most days; half of that time dropping or picking up the kids, and half of it alone on the return trip. Much of it I spend listening to music or podcasts, but there’s still a good amount of time given over to thinking about where I’m at and how I’m doing and where I’m headed. It’s brilliant to have thinking time back.
These past few years, I’ve used that time to make changes in my life to bring me closer to where I want to be. I started with the simple premise that happy people raise happy kids and I went from there.
Right now, I’m happier than I have ever been, and I hope/know the same is true for my kids. There’s definitely been a carry-on effect.
Making changes isn’t easy
It’s not easy to deep-dive into your own psyche. I found it confronting to begin with and hard being honest with myself. I think I lived in self-preservation mode for many years – my failings felt too brutal to face because they were so tied to the happiness of my children. And, of course, this kind of self-analysis is not for everyone.
Many readers will benefit from seeing a psychologist or counsellor to help them unravel the things that are making them feel unhappy or unfulfilled. By all means, if you’ve been down for more than a few days at a time, or anxious about things you can’t control, you need to seek professional help. You don’t have to reach breaking point to seek help. In fact, it’s better to get help for life’s niggles before they become a full-on weeping blister that benches you for weeks.
To be honest, at first the most confronting thing about change was the amount of time I was giving over to it. I felt like every minute I spent on myself was somehow being robbed from my children. If they weren’t happy 100% of the time, I blamed myself for not being available 24/7. In a nutshell, time by myself felt selfish.
Three things that helped me
Now, I’ve found a balance that I’m happy with. The more I learned about what makes me happy, the better I’ve become at helping my kids manage their own happiness. Three things have helped me enormously:
You will have your own changes to make to increase your happiness levels. They’re going to go up and down too, especially at this time in life. Right now, hormones rule our heads, and that’s a fact. This is why getting a rock-solid foundation for general happiness is so important. We need to remain stable when parts of life feel very shaky indeed.
The main thing is to know you can change and to take small steps to do so. Baby steps are fine – in fact, they are preferable. Just remember, that putting the time into finding your own happiness can only benefit your kids. Mums matter and the work we do on ourselves really works for our kids too.
Do you believe that happy people raise happy kids?