[A Catholic perspective on parenting kids with needs - Part 3 is about filling your own cup so that you have all you need to give all your child needs. Part 1 is What is Love? Part 2 is Tips for the Journey.]
As mentioned before, parenting is hard enough without adding struggles to the mix like a child with special needs, marital stress, or problems at work or school. What matters most to us is our kids and we often put them first, filling their needs until we’re burnt out. But does this really work?
You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” It’s true, but we try anyway, don’t we? We give them the last burger, the extra hour of attention, and do their chores when they don't have time. We bring to school whatever they forgot and sign them up for sports, working out all the schedules. At some point, you have to wonder, when is there time for me?
Self-care is vital to parenting and it’s often overlooked. 1 Cor 3:16 tells us we are temples of the Holy Spirit. In knowing this, we should care for ourselves also. There’s little we can do for our children if we become sick or injured due to lack of self-care. Worse still if we lack in spirit; it’s the Spirit that moves us to goodness so we need to nourish that (Eph 5:29). How can we inspire them to be the adults we’re trying to raise if we don’t show them the proper way to care for themselves through our own actions?
Care for the Body
First, we teach our children by feeding them right from birth. They get hungry, they cry, and we feed them. They’ve always known this. So, when they get older, they will understand how to satiate hunger, but will they choose wisely? Children are always watching. They see what we eat, what we do with our own bodies. They see if we exercise, how and when we rest when we’re tired. They may not imitate us right away, but they see us and take note.
We need to take care of our physical bodies with dignity and respect. We need to be aware of our health, our fitness, and our nutrition. It may even help to say aloud, “I’m exhausted. I need to make sure I sleep well tonight so I can have fun with you tomorrow.” They need to hear so they understand. Someday, maybe they’ll be the parent who needs to rest. Maybe right now, they need to know that you want to make fun times with them possible.
The same goes for poor habits. Kids will disregard their physical health if they see their parents disregarding their physical health. Everything from diet, exercise, seeing a doctor, or whether or not we smoke or drink in excess is being watched.
Care for the Mind
Second, our children’s mental health starts from the moment they’re born. We make them smile or laugh. If they cry, we comfort them. If we want our kids to be happy, they want us to be happy too. With all the stress in today’s world, we know we can’t have smiles and laughter all the way into adulthood. That’s why it’s absolutely vital to build up self-esteem and self-confidence. Teach them ways to cope with stress and build resilience by showing your own.
We can’t explain everything to our children, keeping in mind age-appropriateness, but we can simply explain that we’re stressed or worried and need a moment to clear our heads. Taking a moment verbally is a signal to them that this is normal and someday they’ll need to do that too. Let them see that a moment helps calm you, ready you for more time with your child. “This is hard. Let’s take a break.” When they get stressed or frustrated, they’ll learn to take breaks too.
Additionally, caring for your mind isn’t just about taking breaks but being sure to fill yourself with goodness. The world, really the enemy, would like to fill us with foolishness or even bad intentions, but the Holy Spirit fills us with goodness (Gal 5:22). This is vital to a healthy mind. Be aware of not just what your children are watching and reading, but what you yourself are watching and reading.
Care for the Spirit
Lastly, and most importantly, care for your soul. We’re not on earth long and, contrary to popular belief, we do live forever. It’s all about location. We have a short time here to prepare for eternity so be sure we are preparing ours and our children’s souls for heaven.
When the world becomes too much, come to Church, open the Bible, listen to God’s Word for you in the moment. When you’re worried or anxious or angry or frustrated, speak to your Heavenly Father about it. He’s listening. And if you feel you’ve lost a battle, hopelessness starts to come in, or confusion or anything that brings you down, take it to the Cross.
There’s not a soul on earth that Jesus didn’t die for. Fill your spirit with His Spirit constantly. This is the best sustenance for any challenge in your life or the life of your child. Your children are watching. They will see how you fill yourself up on faith. They will watch you feel better after being with the Almighty. Even if they don’t imitate it now, they will later.