I thought I was appropriate to share this story because I see so many children who bring their parents to therapy with their own dysfunction. I think it is a subconscious way of saying, “My whole family needs help, not just me.” In the field, we call this the “identified patient.” Many parents wouldn’t let their kids suffer from a sniffle without getting medical help, but they don’t get help themselves unless they are “on their death bed.” In my opinion the number one parenting skill is modeling. The greatest gift you can give yourself, your spouse, and your children is a healthy, productive you.
— Andrew R. Warnecke, MA, LPC
The Benefits of Therapy to Parenting
A first-time mother at 28 and sleep-deprived beyond belief, I called my mom in North Carolina to ask her about an important “parenting dilemma” regarding my then 4-week-old son. “What’s wrong with me, Mom?” I asked. “If he doesn’t sleep, I worry. If he sleeps too much, I worry. If he cries, I worry. If he goes for a long spell without crying, I worry. If he nurses for a long time, I worry. If he doesn’t nurse for very long, I worry. If he has too many messy diapers, I worry. If he has hardly any bowel movements, I worry. No matter what, I worry!”
My mom gave me a quick chuckle and replied, “Sweetie, welcome to Motherhood.”
That was more than 19 years ago, and of course, my mother was, as usual, right. Becoming a parent opens a can of “worry worms” in you that never really closes. The things you worry about concerning your children change as they age, but the worrying stays the same. However, if you’re burdened with worry, you simply can’t be an effective parent. Likewise, if you’re overwhelmed, physically or emotionally exhausted, bothered by self-doubt, lacking confidence, or feeling isolated, ashamed, afraid, or embarrassed to ask for help, it’s hard to be much of a parent to your children.
So, what’s a good parent to do in order to get better? Basically, you help your children by helping yourself. Period. At the risk of sounding totally selfish, the very best thing you can do to take care of your children is to take care of yourself.
I understand how hard that is for some parents – particularly many mothers out there – to grasp. It was an extremely hard lesson for me to learn. That I should take time and energy to focus on those areas of my life that might be out of balance – physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and sexually – seemed like an incredibly selfish thing to do. How could I possibly focus on me when I had a small child – and then another, and then another -- in need of my care?
It was years before I understood how important caring for me was, and even when I reaped the benefits of doing so, it was only after seeking the counsel and advice of a therapist initially for adolescent issues with one of my children. In other words, when I first decided to meet with a therapist, it wasn’t for my benefit at all – it was to help my child.
However, it was during those sessions of talking about the things that worried and concerned me about my child that I realized I needed to own therapy for myself, first and foremost. Once I understood that, the flood gates opened, and I found I had more parenting power, prowess, and pizzazz than I had ever given myself credit for before. I also learned that I certainly had the means to create balance in my life without short-changing my children, other family members, friends, my church/community, or my co-workers in any way. In fact, if anything, all of these people in my life have benefited from my taking better care of me. I know I’m a better mother, sister, daughter, girlfriend, volunteer, church member, and employee than I had been because I am no longer “just getting by.” I have more of a passion and excitement for what I do, with whom I do it, and for whom I do it than I had had for several years.
Please don’t get me wrong though. Every day is not problem-free now. There are still challenges, frustrations, and issues, but my ability to cope with and address them is far greater because I have taken the time – and continue to make the time – to better know and understand myself.
I’m grateful for what I’ve learned so far in this journey, and I look forward to continuing on the path I’m taking to be “good, getting better” every day.