What is parenting? What constitutes a “good” parent?
Let's work this out.
Is it schlepping all over town forking out hundreds of dollars, giving our children more than some adults can afford? Cell phones, happy meals, $60 shoes at 5. TVs, toys, abundance. Is it doing and giving that we should focus on when raising our kids? Is that being a good parent?
While it is not wrong to live the good life, and we certainly want to provide for our children, it's not the material things we give our children that are our greatest gift. It's how to live your best life despite your circumstances. The right way to treat yourself and others. How to maintain peace, joy, and gratitude. How to respect and honor your physical body, mental well-being, and emotional state. These are the values, the life skills, and the mentality that is priceless.
So, here’s the secret to being a good parent.
You can hang your hat on this. Parenting is modeling.
In many situations that are negative or unpleasant, health-related or not, we cannot change the circumstances immediately. But we can control how we react to them. And this reaction, the emotional response, the control, poise, and reflection are what constitute the stuff of good parents. So, while life may be difficult for us now and certainly in the future, we must rise above it as parents. Think of what lessons you want your children to learn in this life and try to show them.
No, it’s not easy.
For many, it is far easier to buy a toy, take a vacation, or indulge in doing things like taking to a practice/friend's house that make one feel like a good parent. Again, it's great to provide material items, opportunities, and experiences, but that is icing on the cake, and excess money and time are not requirements for good parenting.
It is in our being we become good or even great parents. So even if we feel broken or damaged by fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, mental illness, or whatever else, we can still be examples of how to live the best life with what we have to work with. How to grow from pain. How to persist through challenges. Modeling a strong, healthy adult because we want to be a good parent. Making changes in our own lives to be role models for our children.
Children are a gift because they create an opportunity to see yourself in a whole new way. A chance to reflect on the parts of you that are making you a better person. How we deal with our illness and health as Spoonies is a great way to teach our children how to overcome adversity.
How to ignore the voices that creep in when the pain gets bad, and you long to escape to be someone else, and just accept. Accept the things you cannot change and know everything is as it should be.
Yes, your children will still want all those things today, but they will value the behavior model you give them for the rest of their life. So be kind to yourself and others. Think before you speak. Try to be a good human being. The rest of it is out of your control.
We have just lived through a pandemic. Not just us adults, but our kids have been dragged through a worldwide catastrophic event that changes how we live our lives. And guess what? The children aren't coping very well with it, in case you haven't heard. There is a lot of talk about what to do about it. How to quickly enlarge the mental health workforce, change schools to become more supportive, and creative ways to educate the public on mental health warning signs in kids. While all these areas will be helpful, parents must do their part too. As moms with fibromyalgia, we have the benefit of hard-earned resiliency. We can model for our children how to respond to adversity and challenges in life by prioritizing our health and wellness in 5 significant areas.
Children are at the mercy of what food we give them. Currently, 1 out of every 5 children in the United States is overweight or obese, with some groups as high as 1 out of 3.¹
Providing nutritious family meals that are eaten together, mostly at home, is a great way to help your child develop healthy eating habits. In addition, including them in meal planning, prepping ingredients, and cooking can increase their excitement to try new foods.
I know this is a challenging area for most Spoonies and often a place that triggers guilt and shame for not being more active or able to play with our children. While we may not be able to join them, we should still encourage physical activity in our kids. If the weather permits, encourage your children to play outside while you watch from a chair outside or the window. If you feel up to it, take them to a local park.
Sign your children up to try a sport. If you have greater challenges with energy levels, contact some of your children's friends' parents and explain your limitations. They may help with practice carpools or schlepping your kids to the park when they go. It's often better to include their friends in any way you can. Lastly, if you have started the Spoonie Yoga Program, you can have them join you in your practice or teach them some of the poses you have learned.
As I mentioned earlier, the way we respond to situations that trigger strong emotions teach our children how to handle stress and challenges in their own life. Naming emotions and feelings and taking the time to work through them with your child can help them develop their EQ or emotional intelligence. This skill is highly valued in the workplace and helps us relate to others and ourselves.
Cognitive challenges prevalent in fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other invisible illnesses can make day-to-day tasks very difficult. When we are mentally or physically disorganized, a bad day can turn into overwhelm very quickly. So while you don't need to become a Marie Kondo unless that speaks to you, maintaining an ordered, clutter-free home can make life much easier.
If you have teenagers, here's a great post with tidy tips for teens from Marie. Studies have shown when environments are organized, it's easier to think and organize our thoughts.
Speaking of thoughts, we also need help organizing our minds from time to time, especially when we have difficult decisions to make. Taking thoughts out of our minds by writing them down is a great place to start. You can use sticky notes to jot down ideas that you can rearrange later. Sticky notes can also be used for reminders and placed on items like the fridge or bathroom mirror to serve as cues.
If you need help with clarity, create a collage of pictures and words from magazine cutouts, photos, or clipart. Lists and charts can also help us structure our day and priorities. Mission statements can give us a sense of purpose in life and make decisions easier overall.
Meditation or reconnecting with nature can help quiet and slow the mind. Sleep is a wonderful way to help organize the mind. While we sleep, our unconscious mind gets a chance to work on what our conscious mind wouldn't let go of during waking hours.
The last area is another challenging, triggering area for Spoonies. Many of us have lost friendships due to illness and symptoms limiting our ability to get out in the world. It's okay! But, it would help if you created a new social life that your kids are aware of. Make sure you have friends and encourage friendships for your child with playdates, even if they are infrequent.
Building a social support network is vital for everyone's health, and children rely on us to model and foster this behavior for them and in them.
Social skills also include how you interact with people you don't know or acquaintances. Are you polite and respectful? Do you listen and show kindness? Can you forgive the driver that cuts you off, or do your children often hear you blasting superlatives, tense, and angry at the world? Children often learn interpersonal violence from role models, but they can also learn acceptance, forgiveness, and empathy for others.
Lastly, how do you show up in your community? Do you volunteer? Do you give back? Find organizations that are near and dear to your heart. Love animals? Offer to help a local shelter or foster agency. Try a Google search for whatever you are interested in. Then communicate your strengths and limitations to see where you can help. If you have a skill, look for a way to use it.
Even if you feel like you can't do much, there are always so many places volunteer organizations need help. Maybe making phone calls, writing emails, stuffing bags, spreading the word on social media, there is no help too small. In giving back, your problems and pain, even if temporarily, may lessen. Helping others has been shown to have that effect.
Children rely on us to show them the behavior and skills they will need to be healthy, happy adults. These are not found in material possessions or experiences but are learned through watching the lifestyles of their parents. We can teach our children adversity is a part of life, but by practicing healthy habits, we can strengthen our ability to be flexible and flow through life's challenges by relying on our wellness foundation.
Yes, you may not be able to interact or give your child everything you once could, but you can give them a much greater gift. You can model the skills and behavior that one day, they will be proud of you for prioritizing when you could have just given up. Schedule a free consultation if you'd like to discuss any of these areas with me!
Childhood Overweight & Obesity. (April 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/index.html#:~:text=Childhood%20obesity%20is%20a%20serious,than%20what%20is%20considered%20healthy.