The Most Important Part of Parenting is to Learn to Parent Yourself.
In the book, The Scaffold Effect by Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, he states, "The parental scaffold is the external structure and support around the child's 'building.' In the early days, the building doesn't yet have a solid framework. Fortunately, the strong parental scaffold that surrounds it keeps the building from falling down...if the scaffold itself isn't secure, it won't be strong enough to guide the building's upward growth."
According to brittanica.com, "scaffold, in building construction, [is a] temporary platform used to elevate and support workers and materials during the construction....it consists of one or more planks of convenient size and length, with various methods of support, depending on the form and use. I took the liberty to emphasize the phrase, "with various methods of support", because the way we all secure our own scaffolding may look different. There is not a magic formula to how to self-care, but we all need to put a system in place in order to support our children's building.
According to Koplewicz, "Parents are feeling it from every front - financial, technological, personal, and logistical. It's not your fault that you're exhausted and distracted. But it is your responsibility as parents to do something to neutralize your own stress." We all know that this past year has certainly added to the need for parents to self-care. So, the necessity in helping yourself is even more important. I love this idea from Dr. Koplewicz, "Self-care is childcare." That needs to be repeated..."SELF-CARE IS CHILDCARE". Truly solid childcare cannot occur without parents' self-care.
Daily, I have parents coming into my office that are "just done"; they are so tired and exasperated. We all need to figure out ways to help ourselves become better parents. Learning how to parent yourself is the starting point. Here is a list of important points when you are looking at a scaffolding structure for yourself:
Make the planks in your scaffolding structure the right size. In other words, don't make your plan of self-care too big. If you are not a runner, then, don't pick running three miles a day as your exercise plan. It may be fine to do a 10 minute walk around your block. We want our children to see that we have made a plan and we can stick to it. So, if they see us starting a project and never finishing it, we are sending a negative message to them.
Put a reward system into place. Once you nail down a plank, reward yourself! A word of caution, make the reward match the the size of the task. Would you give your child a $100 or a brand new car when he brings home an "A" on a homework assignment? Probably not, so be sure to reward yourself appropriately. An example could be, if you have done your exercise routine for three days, then reward yourself by taking a day off. Also remember to encourage your effort. We often tell our children it is their effort that is most important, so tell yourself the same thing. Be aware of negative self-talk, that is a downward spiral that is difficult to turn upward.
Make unplugging part of your plan. This is a personal decision, but I do feel that we all need a media break as part of our self-care routine. The amount of that break is your preference. For some, it may be a whole weekend and for others it may be just a night. But, we all want our children to be on their devices less, so we have to be as well.
Know your buttons. Being self-aware is a key to self-care. What makes you feel angry, sad, overwhelmed, confused, happy, and scared? Those are just a few emotions that cause our mammal brains to ignite. When our freeze, flee, and fight responses activate, then we are acting out of our emotional brain rather than being able to rationally think through the reality of a situation with our prefrontal cortex part of our brain. We are teaching our children that we also have buttons that get pushed, but we have a plan in place to regulate our emotions.
Tell someone about your scaffolding plan. This is a debatable subject, but from my years of experience in business and in therapy, sharing my goals usually holds me accountable. You can also sometimes gain just as much internal accountability by writing your goals down. Helping our children to set goals is a wonderful skill to develop. If you share a general idea of your scaffolding plan to your children, then it will certainly motivate them to do the same.
Gather other workers to join you on your scaffold structure. This may look different for all of us. The phrase, "it takes a village" really is true! Your village may be one or a few close friends. Joining a neighborhood parent support groups can be helpful. Also, do not be afraid to admit that this is really hard! Seeking out a professional to help you to avoid parental burnout is often the most important worker to join us on on our scaffold structure.
There are many ways that we can help ourselves to tame our emotions. I have reviewed several of those methods in past articles and videos. Refer to the following articles and videos for some tips and usable activities.
Balance in 2021: Managing Your Emotions and the Ripple Effect
The Three R's: Receive, Redirect, and Regulate
T-Cubed Corner Videos have lots of information and practical tips of how to regulate your emotions.
In closing, I will use another quote from the book, The Scaffold Effect. Dr. Koplewicz states, "Parental burnout is real, and it's widespread. Similar to career burnout, parental burnout strikes when you try to do too much, feel constant pressure and extreme stress, and can't seem to muster the enthusiasm or energy to do anything, let alone scaffold your child with love, attention and guidance." Remember that when the construction of the building is completed, the scaffolding is usually taken down. However, when repairs are needed, many times the scaffolding needs to be put back into place. Our parental scaffold is the same way. We may not have to always have the metal planks in place in a visible way, but the boards are always stored in a closet that is easily accessible. Once a parent, always a parent. Be sure to do self-care in order to avoid dreading being a parent, but actually finding joy in the journey.