By Sarah Stollery, kundalini yoga and meditation teacher.
Although you may not realise it, your health and wellbeing as a parent are really important to the health and wellbeing of your children. Here’s why:
1. We regularly undergo sensory overload
Parenting today is more challenging than it has ever been. We are constantly exposed to a tidal wave of conflicting advice and are under pressure to be perfect homemakers, while often working full- or part-time into the bargain.
But we are also constantly processing sensory information from the world around us, sifting through it at a rapid pace, discarding what is insignificant and attending to our top priorities. It is about engaging with our surroundings, whether virtual or physical, and we do it during most of our waking life. As a result, we tend to place little value on those unstructured periods of internal focus such as day-dreaming.
The problem with this situation is that an overemphasis on the external can lead to sensory overload and a chronic neglect of our own wellbeing as well as that of our children. We zip along feeling fine, but because we spend little, or no, time listening to our own internal voice, we fail to notice that we are filling up with frustration, intolerance, anger and sadness – until it all gets too much and we end up feeling depressed or anxious.
So now more than ever it is crucial to find opportunities for solitude and give ourselves time to reflect, daydream and just simply to be quiet so we can hear the voice within that is so often drowned out.
So make a point of scheduling moments to enjoy a bit of silence. Here are some tips for making quiet time part of your daily routine at home:
- Choose a time of day that works for everyone in your family (if possible) i.e. if you have school-age children, a good time may be just after they have had a snack but before they start their homework. For younger children, between bath time and bed time may work better;
- Decide on a short chunk of time, say five minutes, and work up to more if it suits you, but do ensure it is achievable for your family;
- Involve your children when planning how to spend your quiet time. Would they like to try a meditation (see the Relax Kids website for lots of guided meditations for kids and adults)? Would they rather listen to music? Could you even make a corner of your home into a Relaxation Zone?
- Invite your children to chat about anything that arose for them during their quiet time. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to connect and find out what’s going on for them;
- Some children may like to keep a diary during, or just after, their quiet time in order to help them process their feelings and experience.
2. Children learn by watching what we do not what we say
As the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words. So the most effective way to teach our children how to make wellbeing a lifelong habit is to model this behaviour for them now.
But this is far easier said than done as it means taking a hard, honest look at our own wellbeing habits and assessing where we can make changes in order to provide the example we would like our kids to follow. Here are some examples of where we, as parents, often overlook our own wellbeing by:
- Being socially isolated and failing to ensure we have adequate emotional and practical support around us;
- Ignoring our own needs for developing a creative outlet;
- Consistently making ourselves the lowest priority, overlooking the importance of self-care and failing to meet our own health and wellbeing requirements;
- Feeling unable to express ourselves authentically and without judging ourselves;
- Denying our parental intuition due to external pressures;
- Overstimulation from input such as social media, the news etc.
The idea is that if you explicitly attend to your own wellbeing, your children will follow suit and grow up doing the same.
3. Awareness is Key
When we begin to proactively manage our own wellbeing, tune the world out and tune in to ourselves, we naturally become more self-aware. I am not talking here about critical self-judgement, which is about analysing our own behaviour and giving ourselves a hard time about it.
Instead I am talking about taking a step back and assuming the role of observer in order to look at what you are doing in an objective way. The aim here is to find ways to effect the positive changes necessary to improve you and your children’s wellbeing.
So, for example, if you missed the deadline for signing up for that Zumba class again, rather than downplaying it as an oversight or memory lapse, it might make sense to dig a little deeper. Perhaps the real reason you did not sign up for it is because you do not actually like dancing and, deep down, would prefer to sign up for a painting class to get in touch with your creative side.
Despite being a trivial example, it does serve to illustrate how it is all too easy to undervalue wellbeing and thus unconsciously communicate this attitude to your children.
But awareness can also offer a different perspective when facing challenges with our children that may have a direct impact on their wellbeing. For example, realising that I felt the need to control what my son ate had a huge impact on my behaviour at mealtimes, which in turn affected his eating habits – for the better.
Sometimes coming to such awareness can take effort and be uncomfortable and challenging. But with such awareness comes objectivity and, with objectivity, we can start to parent in a way that truly puts the wellbeing of our children front and centre.
In other words, cultivating awareness is at the very heart of wellbeing. It is what allows us to be conscious that we would love to try painting, for example. And the great thing is that, as we cultivate our own wellbeing, our awareness develops in tandem. This means that our wellbeing improves still further, and accordingly, that of our children, in a truly virtuous circle.
Sarah Stollery is a kundalini yoga and meditation teacher and co-founder of The Cabin, a self-directed learning community for home-educated children. She is passionate about empowering people of all ages and stages of life with the tools to thrive in these challenging times by creating space to learn, explore and integrate a wide range of wellbeing practices.