Sarah Ingram from Fegans shares three crucial ways for parents to improve their own wellbeing, and therefore be best placed to meet the complex needs of their children.
Being a parent is tough, especially when juggling multiple commitments such as work, extended family, friends, and the stresses related to your child’s school such as homework and the dreaded playground peer pressure.
How can we ensure that we are meeting the emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual needs of our children? I believe that sometimes the best place to start is with ourselves.
If we are stressed, anxious and under pressure our children will often be the first to suffer: after all it’s at home where we can let off steam. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that sometimes my children get the worst of me rather than the best. I remember one Sunday morning, driving up to church my children were threatening to kill each other and one was in tears. We then piled out of the car and had to put on our ‘Sunday faces’ and pretend everything was great! Sometimes as Christians, we add even more pressure upon ourselves and are keen to ‘keep up appearances’.
The following are three helpful tools for improving mental wellbeing as well as parenting skills:
1 Model the behaviour we want to see
Are we able to ask friends for help? Do we make time for our adult relationships with old and new friends, spouses and extended family relationships? If you can’t remember a time when you met up with a friend, then arrange a time to do it soon. If parents have people to talk to and events to look forward to, they will feel more able to cope with all the challenges they face.
Modelling behaviour in terms of managing technology is also important. If we are encouraging our children to have screen-free times then are we modelling this? Do you leave your phone alone at mealtimes and leave it downstairs at night?
If you model good relationships with people and with technology, your children will copy (in time) and, whilst they may challenge you on this, they will be grateful in the long run.
2 Look after yourself and ask for help
Try to find time for a hobby or a class or some regular exercise. Having some of these booked into your week will give you something to look forward to which is unrelated to being a parent.
If you are struggling with everything you are juggling, please don’t struggle alone. If you are honest, others will be honest with you and you will find support. Try not to put yourself under too much pressure, it’s ok to be a ‘good enough’ parent. Find time for some ‘quiet time’ when you can: it will be good for you, and your relationship with God. If this doesn’t happen daily then don’t worry, try for a weekly slot or just chat to God while doing the dishes, the school run or while watching the kids in the playground. Building in special ‘Sabbath’ family times of rest and relaxation together is as important now as ever.
3 Staying calm
If you are feeling stressed, try these simple steps to help you calm down, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Here are some techniques you can use, but try and come up with some yourself too.
Breathe calmly. Breathe in through your nose, counting to three. Then hold your breath, counting to two. And then breathe out through your mouth, counting to six.
Keep thinking about positive thoughts. Think about something you are really looking forward to or use your imagination.
When you are feeling calm and peaceful, often your children will be feeling the same. Be kind to yourself, practise positive self-talk and, if all else fails, remember things will get better – ‘it’s only a phase’!
Sarah Ingram is Head of Parenting and Development for Fegans, a collaborator of Viva’s Oxford-based partner network, Doorsteps. Fegans is a Christian charity that counsels children and provides parent support, intervention and training.
This article first appeared in Life magazine, issue 11