Recently, Quartz released an article citing a study that proved being an empathetic parent actually wreaks havoc on physical health. Specifically,
“Researchers surveyed 247 pairs of parents and their adolescent children on how often and to what degree parents could understand their children’s feelings and respond with appropriate concern. They also took blood samples. Empathetic parents and their children were both better off psychologically. Children of empathetic parents also showed lower levels of inflammatory markers. Their parents were just the opposite. Their samples revealed this low-grade systemic inflammation.”
So basically, empathetic parents enjoy the pleasure of a job well done, while reaping a host of physical challenges that come with working hard. And who says parenting isn’t a real job? The study went further to analyze children with depression and their parents to conclude that empathetic parents (or caregivers in general) develop chronic inflammation and elevated stress hormones over time.
What does this mean for parenting? Is there such a thing as being too empathetic as parents? Should parents hold back from giving their entire self to their children to avoid risking such physical damage?
I’m going to say no—and I think most would be in agreement with this stance. As parents, the best things we can do for our children is to give our all, whether that puts extra stress on our bodies or not. HOWEVER, that isn’t to say our children don’t need us to be healthy, as well.
Before we all turn into Cinderella’s evil stepmom to keep inflammation and elevated stress levels at bay, how about just taking a few deep breaths when you feel overwhelmed? Take a bath when your children are at a friend’s house for a sleepover, indulge in a glass of wine after their bedtime, or pick up a habit such as meditation, exercise, maybe even writing, to let off some steam.
When it comes down to it, parenting is a difficult job, but the benefits to your children of being an empathetic, involved parent far exceed the risk of the physical health drawbacks outlined in this study.
What are some ways you practice self-care as a parent? Do you think it’s important in helping you be an effective, empathetic parent? Let me know!
I’m not the first, and won’t be the last, to say this, but I think any of us who have gone through the extremely rewarding process of growing our children into happy adults can be very, very difficult. Whether you’re going through it with a partner or you’re raising your children on your own, parenting is a taxing occupation that reaps the greatest rewards.
But despite the challenges you might face—stressful days, nanny’s who cancel at the wrong times, tantrums, you name it—there are some ways to turn a difficult parenting day into a happy one. Here are some tips I’ve found that work:
Make time to connect with your child. Often, when our children are acting out, they are doing so to attract your attention. An easy way to avoid this is to give them enough attention in the first place. Wake yourself and them up a little earlier to have a sit-down breakfast together. Eat around a table at night instead of in front of a TV. Keep up a conversation with them during carpool. The more your child feels content with your attention on them, the less they’ll feel the need to stress you out by acting out for it.
Stop yourself from yelling. Yes, there are times when it feels like the only way to get through to your children. Yes, you have days when you’re just really frustrated and stressed. No, yelling will not solve the problem. By finding other ways to communicate your disapproval with your child, you’ll not only have a calmer environment in your home, but you’ll also teach your children more appropriate ways to handle their emotions with others.
Prioritize your commitments. You are not Super-Parent. Nobody is Super-Parent. While you might want to volunteer in your child’s class, bake cupcakes for the bake sale, be the carpool every day, and coach their sports team, you can only do so much. It is important to spend time with your children, not to smother them with your presence. It is important to spend time with your children, not to the extent of burning yourself out.
Take care of yourself—without the guilt. Sometimes you need to go for that massage, go out to dinner, see your friends, or go on that date night. It does not make you a bad or neglectful parent to need some time to invest in and rejuvenate yourself. In fact, it’s going to make you a better parent to your children overall. When you’re not stressed out and you’re taken care of, you’ll be in a better position to take care of them.
What do you do when stress gets the best of you? Do you have any tips to add for not letting stress affect the happiness of your children? Let me know in the comments!
It’s time to admit it to yourself . . . you need a break.
But why is it so hard for men, fathers in particular, to vocalize their need to step back for a bit and spend some time—whether it be a day, or even an hour—focusing on rejuvenating themselves with some personal time? And I don’t mean time to drop your kid off at daycare to spend working, writing (if your work is writing), or taking care of bills and housework, but actual time to relax and refresh.
Writing a book, being a single parent, and making a living for one’s family is enough to burn out the Energizer bunny, and yet when put in that position some men don’t feel comfortable admitting they need some time off. Stay-at-home fatherhood is still not widely recognized as acceptable in our society, and it’s taken for granted that men should be able to work and parent simultaneously, with no complaint. There are all kinds of studies out there showing how working mothers are affected by the stress of mothering and working full-time, but I’ve found none that accurately do the same for working fathers.
Well, as a single father who also worked full-time, I can tell you that getting burned out is something that happens overwhelmingly and often when you don’t fit personal time into your schedule. It’s time we stand up for ourselves, even if that just means unapologetically taking care of ourselves.
When you feel close to your breaking point, it is a favor to yourself, your child, and your work to get away for a time, go see a movie by yourself, go fishing, zone out to your favorite Netflix show . . . anything that allows you to rest your brain, rest your body, and feel refreshed enough to go back and conquer your very hectic schedule with patience and grace. I found that for me, personally, finding time to read every day, even if it’s only for an hour or so, helps me focus on the other pieces of my schedule more clearly.
My point is, don’t be afraid of calling time-out—you’ll be better off for it.
Do you ever struggle trying to balance all the areas of your life? What’s your favorite “time-out” activity? Let me know in the comments below!