We often ask our children what they want to be when they grow up, to understand what their aspirations are, and to support them in their wishes.
Surely, we are only doing our job properly as “Grown Ups” if we are showing the next generation all the opportunities they have available to them.
"But what are we showing them through our actions and behaviours?"
Not just how we talk about the jobs we have, and our day, but the way we live our lives when are around our children? Are they seeing a strung out, over worked, tired and irritable person? Someone who rarely has time for themselves? Who talks about themselves and their role in life negatively? Who feels hard done by. Restricted by life. Who plays the martyr?
Are we risking raising a generation of children who think that becoming a parent is full of sacrifice. Who aren’t allowed to fulfil their own needs, to rest, to enjoy things? What I am asking you to do is to consider what lesson you are giving your kids about self-care.
If you show them, however unintentionally, that you don’t consider yourself as important, will they follow that idea into their adult life? That once they become a parent, their needs slide right down the list of priorities? This isn’t just something that I am reflecting on. Researcher Ionan Lupu, from ESSEC Business School, France, has investigated how the work-life balance style of parents influences their children and how this plays a part in their attitudes to work as adults.
“In sum, the impediments to greater work-life balance and satisfaction lie not only in organizations and society but also within individuals themselves through learned dispositions. This research should raise awareness of the gap that often exists between conscious ambitions related to career and parenting and unconscious attitudes and expectations. If we want to reach our full potential, we have to be aware of how who we are has been shaped by our earliest experiences.”*
So, very simply is there a risk that there will be generations of duplicate overworked parents, or will watching the fallout of a tired, stressed generation lead to the future being fulfilled, simplistic and calm? I would rather not wait and see, but to take some positive steps now.
Have you recently considered the message you are giving your children? How you talk about your work and life and what THAT is telling them about their future expectations? How have we got to a time and place where busy is worn like a badge of pride? That we, and our children, are scheduled to a point of exhaustion. Where we must be taught how to relax? Are we setting them up to fail?
These are my top 5 tips on how to become a self-care role model:
1. Explain what energises you.
The children in our lives look up to us. They think we are invincible; super heroes their eyes. Lead by example and let them see you doing positive, healthy things you enjoy. Some of that may be with them, some of that may be along side them; some may be without them. Explain the value it brings to your life.
2. Make changes if you aren’t happy.
If there are elements of your life that don’t make you happy, consider changing the parts you can control. What could you do to carve out more time for yourself? They may be big, life changing decisions (such as a career or job change) or smaller ones (such as going to bed a little earlier!). Start showing the children around you that you don’t have to be stuck with your “lot” in life.
3. Talk about mental well-being.
There is so much pressure on physical well-being. Making sure we get enough exercise, five a day, screen time; as a parent the must-do list can feel endless (and provides extra pressure). I know, through my two children, that these are elements that are popping up at school too. In fact, my eldest often educates ME! However, there is a conversation that is often missing in the curriculum. The importance of mental well-being. Let us be the generation that finally breaks the taboo around mental wellness. That gets our children just as tuned in to their thought process as their joints!
4. Encourage their self-care, get them to choose.
When is the last time you asked your children what makes THEM feel good? Or to talk about what is troubling them? Whilst it is important for our children to be resilient, capable and independent, we also need to encourage them to be open, self-aware and gentle on themselves. To pay attention to what works for them, their emotions and the tools that settles them, energise them, de-stresses them and entertains them.
5. Say No!
This is a biggie. Be a role model by saying “No” to things. Show them you don’t have to be a people pleaser. That you can decide what you can and can’t do. That saying "no" isn’t the end of the world and you aren’t letting someone down. “No” is a powerful word and can often leave the space and energy to say “Yes” to the things that really matter.
There are my top five ways to become self-care role models for the next generation. This is not about being selfish, which is often the words many parents associate with self-care, but about breaking a stress cycle. And if you need anymore convincing, just remember that “you can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first”.
NOTE: The work is an opinion piece generated by the author using publicly available reference material.
Clara Wilcox is a straight talking, practical, experienced qualified coach helping clients navigate the tricky waters of returning to work, career changes and professional development. The Balance Collective is a social enterprise focused on improving the lives of parents, by working together to build inner confidence and promote a healthy work/life balance.An eternal student, she also holds a Psychology Degree, Mentoring, Project Management, DISC