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Take Care of Yourself First

This is one piece of parenting advice that has come up in this column before.  The metaphor I use often with parents is that of the instructions when getting ready for a commercial air flight.  “If the cabin loses pressure oxygen masks will automatically deploy.  If you are travelling with children secure your own mask before helping your child.”   The principle is kind of obvious with an oxygen mask (though I’m guessing there are still parents who struggle to put their children’s mask on first); if you pass out from lack of oxygen neither you or your children are going to be taken care of. 

The principle applies in general life as well.  One of the best things you can do for your children is take care of yourselves.  If you aren’t in good shape the care you will be giving to your children will be less than what it could be.  You need to keep yourselves in the best shape possible in order to do the best you can for your kids.  This means you need to make yourselves a priority, even if that means not giving something to your kids.  Quite frankly, your kids will benefit more from a healthy, happy you than they will from another activity. 

Not taking care of yourself can have an additional negative effect on your kids.  There is a lot of evidence to show that parental stress has a negative impact on kids.  One study even suggests parental stress affects children’s gene expression.  That is, it impacts them on a genetic level.  Those effects can be long lasting.

Taking care of yourself and managing stress well also models for your kids good practices they should pursue as adults.  So do what you can to take care of yourselves.  Get enough exercise and eat right.  But also prioritize time for yourself, whether that be for restorative activities or to nurture your adult relationships.  In fact, an investment in your relationship with your partner is one of the best gifts you can give your children.