The Parent (Wellness) Trap

“I’d love to get more sleep, but with the kids’ schedules, it’s just not possible.”

“Breakfast? I’m lucky to grab a granola bar on the way out the door to bring the kids to school.”

“I was in great shape until we had Juliette. It’s really hard with kids.”

“My sorority sisters and I used to go to the Outer Banks for a long weekend every fall, but most of us don’t really have time for that anymore with our kids.”

“I could really use a bit of time to myself each day, but my kids need me all the time.”

In my conversations with people about wellness, kids come up a lot. Specifically, many parents perceive their children, and parenting, as obstacles to their wellness. I coach many parents too and they all have one thing in common: They love their kids tremendously. I often hear them say, “I’d do anything for my kids.” It’s a powerful experience to be around a parent who would do anything for their child. That said, in doing anything for their children, many people give up some other things of value to them: sleep, rest, solitude, friendship, nourishing workouts, nourishing meals, and more. What they give up is self-care. What they are giving up is wellness.

When a parent gives up self-care in this martyr dynamic, it’s a lose-lose situation. First, yes, obviously the parent’s wellness suffers in both the short- and long-term. That’s clear. And important. Second, and maybe less obvious, the child’s wellness suffers, potentially into adulthood and for their whole life. How’s that possible?

Kids model themselves after the adults in their lives, especially their parents.

Kids don’t do what we say; kids do what we do. More so, kids become their parents. Kids who grow up with parents who model thriving relationships are much more likely to experience thriving relationships in their adulthood. Kids who watch their parents work 60-hour workweeks are much more likely to make long workweeks a value they carry into adulthood. Kids who sit down with their whole family for dinner are much more likely to become adults who gather their whole family to sit down together for dinner. Kids who hear their parents groan about how exercise is a drag are much more likely to also decide that exercise is no fun.

“You gave me life; now show me how to live.”
–Show Me How to Live by Audioslave (Song)

Of course, as adults we make our own choices and don’t necessarily live just like our parents did. But it takes a lot of effort to break the momentum of our upbringing. For a child, It’s a huge help, a great head start, to have thriving parents model wellness for them.

Kids don’t want us to do things for them, then want to us to show them how to live. They’re new(er) to this world and don’t have the experience we have. We’re their models. They watch everything we do. They listen to everything we say to one another. They absorb our values and habits. It makes sense; absorption of the life around us is the most expeditious way to learn and grow.

If you’re a parent struggling to find your self-care mojo, I offer this discourse as a new form of inspiration, possibly one you haven’t thought of. When you make time for self-care, it’s not only not selfish, it’s one of the best things you can do for your children. And you’re already amazing and doing great things for your children. I’m simply presenting another way of thinking about doing great things for your children. A way that leaves guilt at the door and fosters deep wellness for everyone involved. Exciting, right?

What can you do for yourself today? And are there ways you and your family members can exercise together, eat together, and otherwise nourish yourselves together? Those can be big win-win situations.


There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.


2 thoughts on “The Parent (Wellness) Trap

  1. Hi Jason,

    I really appreciate this post. As a sole parent, finding time for my own wellness and self-care doesn’t always come easily. And, it usually requires me finding someone to take care of my child, which can even involve an added cost (such as a sitter).

    While I would never advocate that a parent become a martyr to their child’s needs, the sacrifices we make as parents need to be perceived as a choice and something that we have to lean into as such. And, something we can learn to reap the benefits of as well. For example, I have learned more about how to love another person and pay attention to their needs by parenting and focusing less on my own. But…true enough…tip too far, and resentment can build. It will (and certainly has in my case a time or two) show up in how quickly we lose our patience with our kids or try to discipline their behavior in unhealthy ways.

    They key to managing all this is finding a way to model making your “Yes as good as your No.” But let’s face it, saying “No” to that adorable face isn’t so easy, so we find ourselves in the trap of saying “Yes” all too often. I am coming to learn the value of saying, “Yes, I can do that after I do xyz (aka something for myself).” Or, “Yes, I can do that after you help me with abc (and then weave in a chore like folding laundry that supports us both).”

    As kids age, I also think they have a capacity to appreciate analogies. So, for example, as my 8 1/2 year old wants to venture off to see his pals, I now remind him on those weekend nights – when I might do something with one of my friends that doesn’t involve him and he feels left out – the story of how he wanted to be with his best friend for hours and didn’t want me around. This helps teach him how to empathize too.

    At the end of the day, what’s most important in all self-care…acknowledging we did the best we could…in all ways.

    Thanks for the gentle nudge towards greater wellness!
    ❤ MK


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