by Thelma Farley
Before you are a parent, you are a person. You have a history, a personality, a life of the self. When you became a parent, your self became an endangered species. Without a great deal of vigilance, you can literally lose your self in the business and responsibility of parenthood. Your sense of self is a precious commodity stock. Its value may rise and fall in your own eyes, but it may never be traded or sold on the open market, not even while you are parenting.
Family therapist John Bradshaw wisely said, “You are the only person who will never leave you.” Since you will be around for a long time in your own life, living with yourself requires tender, ongoing care. Like an inner friend, self reminds you that you will always need to continue to grow and change. When you listen to the self, you discover that growing and changing is good, never easy, and seldom painless. Paying attention to your own development as a person is the responsibility you earned by growing up out of your own childhood.
There is always work to be done on yourself. You are the best one to determine your strengths and vulnerabilities. You know intimately where the cracks in your self-concept and self-esteem are located. You know what it takes to wake up every morning and be you. This you, this sense of yourself, is the person who must be preserved for yourself, and then for your child.
It turns out to be true that troubled parenting can be a flashing red light calling attention to a need within the self. Trying to learn, trying to understand, trying to accomplish, trying to grieve or forgive, yourself has daily needs.
An ancient, stubborn myth in most cultures declares that personal needs should be suppressed or dismissed in the face of a child’s needs. It further suggests that children should be given everything and parents are selfish if they want or need very much for themselves. Sadly, by the time most parents admit that they need something for themselves; they are wavering on the brink of exhaustion, and half out of their wits with frustration and deprivation. This does not make for a happy camper, a functional person, or a very helpful parent.
It is the state of your own wellness which most powerfully motivates you to continue. Personal refueling preserves your well-being, and therefore, the well-being of your children. Actually, taking care of your own needs makes you so much more willing and able to help your children get their needs secured.
The role requires rejuvenation
How many of us realized that we were taking on a role of a 24/7 volunteer when we said yes to parenting? Did we understand that the job carries infrequent gratification, and only occasional recognition—some of that being inflammatory or negative?
The role is a part we play in our own reality show. There are things we must do in that role. While the role of parent is acknowledged as one of the most important in every society, so little preparation and support are given to sustain it. We are expected to perform the role with whatever resources we can gather.
Life circumstances of parents widely differ. Is there enough money, do we have a home, and are there partners, relatives and friends to help us if we need them? Does the community value our children and our work? Sometimes.
Circumstances are likely to change frequently during the long period of time devoted to parenting. There will be joyful and sad times, and prosperous times. There will be failure sometimes easily remedied, sometimes dire. Ultimately, the way we deal with circumstances determines the quality of personal and family life. It’s not the crisis itself but the way we handle the crisis that determines the outcome for us and our child.
Some of us parent with partners, some without. Although we probably can’t return to lifestyles of the tribal village, it’s enticing to think about the comfort and security that seemed present when whole communities made it their business to raise all of the children. Is the parent role changing? Not very much. Changing times may mean adjusting techniques, but child and parent needs continue to be basic. While some tasks can be delegated, hired out, exchanged, or bartered, there are still many aspects of the role that can only be performed by the parent. That’s exactly why nurturing the nurturer becomes vital. Nurturing the nurturer empowers ordinary people performing in the extraordinary role of parent. Celebrating and refueling the self makes it possible to be your child’s perfect parent.
Thelma Farley is a nationally-acclaimed child and adolescent development specialist, who at various times in her career has served as consultant to Federal, State and Local schools. Farley is the primary author of Every Person Influences Children (EPIC): a nation-wide self-esteem program for children, parents and teachers. In 1983 she co-founded Beacon Day School and during her tenure as Director has provided teacher training on creating developmentally-responsive curriculum to East Bay public schools. Thelma’s expertise in child and adolescent development makes her a sought-after speaker on parenting issues. Her book, Parenting Developmentally: Living the Passion, Power and Perks, is in a second printing. www.thelmatalk.com