When my first two children were around 3 and 1 years old, I distinctly remember that having a cold, sniffles or slight headache became my new normal, particularly during the colder months. I think I mainly put it down to not paying careful enough attention to my diet, and constant close-up exposure to snot-drenched little ones.
But interesting new research suggests there could be another reason.
It has been found that the more empathetic parents were towards their children, the more likely they were to have a lowered immune system. Yep, you read that right; the findings suggest that being consistently kind and understanding to your children has great benefits for your sense of self-esteem and purposefulness, BUT puts you at increased risk of systemic inflammation. (If, like me, you have a touch of the research geek in you, check out the full study and links to other related ones here).
So, you know that non-stop giving of yourself that you do? That non-stop suppression of your own feelings for the sake of helping your children deal with theirs? Well, that not only depletes you psychologically and emotionally (which you definitely already knew) but also at a physiological level.
Wow, incredible, doesn’t that explain such a lot!
And so now it’s extremely obvious what you need to do isn’t it? Just stop being so damn nice and understanding to your children. A little more shouting, a little less kindness and a LOT more f-ing and blinding and you’ll be right as rain again. How great is that, the permission you’ve been longing for 🙂
Unfortunately, the benefits of empathetic parenting for children are huge and very well-established; strengthened immune system, protection against depression and aggression, better developed brain integration and a higher level of emotional intelligence. And these are only some of them.
So I’m afraid, actually, what you more likely need to do is what I’m sure you already know you need to do, because just about every single piece of parenting advice advises you to do so! Yep, you know what I’m talking about; make your needs a priority and look after you to the same degree you look after your children.
These research findings tell us that this is not just important for providing emotional and psychological relief, but is ESSENTIAL in keeping you physically well and healthy.
So why is it that this intuitive and now science-based piece of advice is so hard for so many of us parents to action? And, in fact, can sometimes feel almost irritating and unhelpful to even hear?
I’ve realised that, for myself at least, it’s because it’s asking of me yet another thing to DO. And however much we work on self-love and prioritising our needs, there is nothing much helpful about adding extra things to our to-do-lists.
You don’t need me to tell you that parenting is all-consuming and time disappears overnight when you have a baby. Then add back to work, and or another baby, and or any pre-baby hobbies or interests and you might just be holding your head above water. But asking to re-jig this delicate balance by adding more things in, well, it’s hardly surprising that it will rarely consistently happen.
Which is why my advice is to do the very opposite of this. Self-care for parents, to my mind, is all about doing less, not more. Culling and paring down on things that are not a priority, that you don’t love, and that drain your energy.
And this looks different for everyone.
For me, it was things like learning to say ‘no’ to invites that don’t energise me, and ‘no’ to extending invites only out of politeness and social nicety. I also had to seriously examine my motivation for feeling that I should have the house looking spotless, home baked goods on offer, and make every single meal from scratch. And giving myself grief when I (usually) didn’t. Pointless, unsustainable and plain exhausting!
So are you interested in exploring this more? What could you cut down on to free some space for your real priorities?
Please do contact me here for more help with this and see here for some more culling ideas.
HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR
I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.
I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.
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