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Stop Putting Your Child’s Needs Ahead of Your Own

The result: Your kids learn that parents are humans who have needs

Published on: September 20, 2018

Stressed mom with young daughter

What would it look like if you made yourself a priority in your life?

I ask this question of parents all the time, especially mothers, and I often get blank stares. Or sarcasm. Or tears. This mentality of “either/or” parenting says that you must choose between your child and yourself and that good parents sacrifice themselves. 

There’s another way. 

“Both/and” parenting says that it’s not your job to make your child as happy as possible every day. Rather, it’s your job to raise your child to a healthy adulthood (whatever that means to you). It’s okay if they’re angry at you. It’s okay if they have to wait for you. It’s okay if they have to compromise with or for you. 

You are part of a family unit and in that unit, your experience of parenthood is just as important as your child’s experience of childhood. Both your experience and their experience matter. 

Everyone learns in different ways, yes, but we know that children learn far more from what their parents do than from what they say. So if we want to raise children who respect themselves, we must model self-respect. If we want to raise children who are emotionally intelligent, we must share our feelings and our processes to handle them. If we want to raise children who care for others, we must show them how to take care of others. 

Your kids learn that they have the power to help you in real ways.

How do we do this? How do we balance our needs and our children’s needs in a way that helps them grow into the type of adults who we can be proud of? First, we stop seeing our needs as competing with each other, and then we start identifying family needs. 

Say that your family needs to be well-rested. What does that mean for you as parent(s)? What does that mean for your kid(s)? How can each member of the family contribute to the whole?

Maybe your kids can lay out their clothes on Sunday for the week. Maybe you can let go of your kids looking a certain way.

Maybe you and a partner alternate morning kid duty or nighttime wake-ups.

Maybe you throw the problem out to your family at dinner and let everyone brainstorm solutions.

“Both/and” parenting is a change of thinking that puts your needs into the mix with the rest of the family’s and allows everyone to share the responsibility. 

The result: Your kids learn that parents are humans who have needs. They learn that they have the power to help you in real ways. They learn how to problem solve as part of a group. And they learn that they can be responsible for new tasks. 

There may be problems and solutions that require sacrifice on the part of your child — AND THAT IS OKAY. If you can handle two after-school activities but three makes your family schedule untenable, you are not a terrible parent for saying no. Instead, help your child brainstorm other ways to get to the activity. You can offer alternatives, but you are not required to sacrifice your entire life for your child. 

Instead, you teach them to prioritize, compromise, think creatively and how to make hard choices. “Both/and” parenting says that both you and your child have needs that are valid and that both you and your child can contribute to the health and happiness of your family.

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