Unfortunately, many kids don’t get what they need from their parents. They were physically hurt, emotionally neglected, constantly criticized, made to feel inferior and unloveable. And when your parents didn’t meet your needs, you may find it difficult to give yourself what you need in adulthood. The good news is that you can learn how to be a good parent to yourself — to take good care of yourself. I’m pleased to share this new blog post about how to do this by my colleague Emma Cameron, MA, UKCP reg. Integrative Arts Psychotherapist.
Why You Need to Be a Good Parent to Yourself and How to Do It
By Emma Cameron, MA, UKCP reg. Integrative Arts Psychotherapist
“Be your own good parent!” urge the self-help books, articles, and perhaps even your friends.
And you like the idea, you really do. But doing it? Hmmm.
Sometimes you know how to be a good parent to yourself (at least to some extent). You look after yourself and feel a certain satisfaction that you are generally doing okay with the whole self-care thing.
But there are days when you get swept up in difficult feelings, or in just getting through to the end of the day. Maybe it’s because you’ve been criticized or your feelings have been hurt in some other way, maybe it’s because you’re caught up in a situation that’s really unfair, or maybe there’s some other trigger (known or unknown).
At these times, you revert to old familiar patterns of being hard on yourself and neglecting your own needs.
Signs you may need to reparent yourself
These old patterns have deep roots. Even though your parents probably loved you, if you grew up with difficulties such as the ones listed below, you’re likely to have difficulties tending to your own needs.
- A parent who was overwhelmed by depression or mental illness.
- A parent who abused alcohol, drugs, or another addiction.
- A parent who was highly self-centered and self-involved.
- A parent who had to put almost all their energy into caring for someone else (such as a family member with an illness or disability).
- A parent who was preoccupied with financial problems, struggled to make ends meet, or lived in poverty.
- A parent who was raised by abusive, rejecting, cruel, persecuted or absent parents.
- A parent who devoted almost all their attention and time to their work.
Any of these factors will have made it more likely that you suffered from childhood emotional neglect (CEN). And people who grew up with CEN often a harder time parenting themselves, especially under stress.
How can you be a good parent to yourself today?
Good parents support their children to do what’s needed to live well and healthily. They help their child connect to others in a friendly, mutually enjoyable and beneficial way. And they help the child experience him/herself as valued, useful, playful and creative.
Here are five simple things you can do today to be your own good parent:
1) Set a bedtime
If you’re someone who often stays up far too late scrolling through social media or watching shows on Netflix, then feels tired and grumpy the next day, you definitely need some good self- parenting.
The trick is to plan a bedtime early in the day, while you still have perspective, logic and time on your side.
Your goal is to have eight hours’ sleep time tonight. So, bearing in mind what time you’ll be waking tomorrow morning, what time should you be turning off your lights and falling asleep? And having worked that one out, now consider all the routines, chores etc that need to be done before you go to bed. Try to factor in everything – from filling the dishwasher, ironing clothes for tomorrow, and prepping lunches, to looking over tomorrow’s to-do list, having a bath, reading, and time to connect intimately with your partner.
2) Make soup
Soup has to be one of the ultimate good-parent foods! It’s healthy, it feels comforting and filling in your belly, and it won’t break the bank. One big pot of soup might last for several meals, saving time and making it less likely you’ll fill up on junk food.
You can also get quite creative and experimental with soup-making, whether you like to seek out exotic recipes or just challenge yourself to use whatever’s in the fridge and cupboards.
3) Walk with a friend
This is a really good self-parenting activity, especially if you’re able to walk in nature, because it combines good old ‘getting fresh air’ (a favorite phrase of many good parents!) with moving your body (physical well-being) and connecting with another person (good for emotional and nervous system wellbeing).
4) Do one thing you keep avoiding
Being your own good parent involves kindly but firmly helping yourself to tackle difficult and/or boring tasks. This can be really hard if you were raised in a permissive household where your parents were so caught up in their own stuff that they failed to set and follow-through in a gentle but consistent way on setting chores and boundaries.
You’ve been avoiding something because it makes you uncomfortable in some way. Check in with yourself the reasons why your best self actually wants to do the thing you’ve been avoiding. If your ‘why’ is a good one and aligns with your values, remind yourself that feeling uncomfortable is okay and tolerable for a short time. You might set a timer for 10 minutes to make a start on the task, then see how you feel. Usually, the beginning is the hardest, and you’ll be able to follow through on getting a good chunk (or the whole thing) done.
5) Metta meditation
Metta or loving-kindness meditation is a powerful exercise which was developed many centuries ago by Buddhist monks. It can be used by anyone to good effect no matter what your religious or spiritual background is.
Metta is a combination of calming yourself, practicing self-compassion, and building a heart full of good intentions towards others. Basically, it involves repeating a sequence of three or four phrases, directing them in turn towards yourself, then on to a loved one, an acquaintance, someone who has done you wrong, and finally to the whole world. You can find guidelines in many books, online articles and on YouTube.
The Metta phrases might be something like: May I be healthy and strong. May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be filled with ease.
Try taking care of yourself like a loving parent
I hope I’ve sparked some good ideas in you that help you be a better parent to yourself today. And even if you only do one of them, please make an effort to consciously notice that you are practicing good self-parenting. Say to yourself “I’m being my own good parent right now” and allow yourself to feel pleased about that. Something as small as this can be the beginning of an upward spiral that has you treating yourself better and better over time until eventually, you have internalized how to be your own good, nurturing parent.
About the author:
Emma Cameron, MA, is a UKCP reg. Integrative Arts Psychotherapist who works with thoughtful, sensitive women in Essex, England, and online. Visit her website and read her blog at https://emmacameron.com.