Here is something of great value that many parenting manuals don’t seem to emphasize enough. Clearly, there are many things your child needs from you at every developmental stage—but your baby and child deeply need you to be enjoying yourself. Your presence is far more nourishing to them when it is pleasurable for you to interact with them. So, let’s turn now to ourselves, and look at what it takes to maintain our own state of heart-wellness.
Parenting can be an emotional jungle sometimes. We become sad for our children when they have a bad day; we feel lost, helpless or inadequate when we cannot console or guide them. We feel abandoned when they trade us in for the company of their peers. Through these innumerable ups and downs, what is most important to know is that we shouldn’t bear these feelings alone. We should share these emotional journeys with our partners, closest friends, family or someone in our parent support group. The essential sustenance of emotional connectedness is one of the main advantages of cooperative parenting.
If you are not used to disclosing your emotions, doing so might feel uncomfortable at first, but it is worth taking the risk and extending your comfort zone a little. When you express your feelings and receive emotional support, you will notice how much more space you have for your child afterward, and how much more loving you feel. Emotional maintenance is essential for parents if we want to keep renewing the joy of being a parent.
There are many of us, across a range of cultures, tending toward shyness about all kinds of feelings; in the modern world, especially, we don’t seem to value emotions. Even joy is sometimes understated; we seem to hold it back as much as the other emotions. Often, life’s pleasures pass us by simply because we don’t take a moment to focus on them, much like walking past a beautiful view without turning our heads to see…without saying, “Wow!” So why not make a point of noticing every day something about your child that gives you pleasure, that uplifts your spirit or tickles your heart. It could be something new your child learns to do, one of her smiles, something funny he says, or a small act of kindness. Stop to breathe in the joy of this moment, and then tell someone about it. Share your joy and revel in it. When your joy is savored, and then shared, it is magnified— it is as if your body becomes better at producing it. You deserve for parenting to be more than a job: It could be your most exciting adventure.
What are a Parent’s Fundamental Needs?
Caring for a baby or child might be the greatest feat of love in action that you have ever done and will ever do again. You owe it to yourself—and to your child—to remember that you also have needs. If you are to nourish a child emotionally, then you also need emotional nourishment. I am going to propose a list of fundamental emotional needs that I believe all parents have. And unless these emotional needs are met, our “emotional wells” run dry—and then parenting suffers. Of course, you might see this list of emotional needs a little differently and may like to alter it—add a few, subtract a few—to fit how you feel. The main thing is that you pay attention to your emotional needs and make a place for them in your life as a parent.
Consider the following as what you as a parent require, and deserve:
- Emotional support from a partner (and if no partner is available, a double dose of the next point).
- Emotional support from family or friends.
- Some space to yourself, some time to be alone, even if only a few minutes each day.
- Some regular, quality time with other adults (for conversation, and so on).
- Having fun—in whatever way you can fit it into your life.
- Some physically pleasurable activities, such as sunbaking, having a massage, listening to music, playing music, dancing, cycling, playing your sport, walking in nature and so forth, as often as you can
- Doing some (or at least a little!) activity that is creative or personally meaningful. For example: paid or volunteer work, some study, a craft, cooking, gardening, reading or yoga.
I am aware that at this point many readers will be thinking: Get real. I’m up to my earlobes in diapers, the house is a mess, the garden is a junkyard and we don’t even know how we’ll make the rent (or the mortgage) payment this month. You think I’ve got time for fun? If at first glance my “Parents’ Bill of Rights” above seems unrealistic, it is only because of our bizarre modern ideas of isolated parenting. It is a far more unrealistic proposition to think that, if we hope to find the joy that is our birthright, we can go on parenting alone in our modern nuclear family units. Parenting is meant to be done in a supportive group, and when it is—when parents, families and communities help each other, it is far more likely that we will have all our emotional needs met. It is when we ourselves feel seen and heard, when we feel held in a web of community, that we pass on to our children the best that we have inside us. In the adventure of parenting, pleasure is not a luxury—it is a necessity. May you and your family find ever more of the sublime treasures that the heart connection can bring.
Photo: Shutterstock/Kolala Photography