The Importance of Learning to Parent Yourself

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The Importance of Learning to Parent Yourself | Wit & Delight
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Exactly one year ago, I went for lunch with my mom and younger brother. A crowded Malaysian restaurant, we each stole bites from one another’s entrees and shared an appetizer: a scenario which feels almost unimaginable now. Hours later, the world shifted: my apartment became my office, my fitness studio, a place I haphazardly fashioned into the different roles public spaces once occupied. The social interactions which colored my life now only took place virtually. 

At the beginning of shelter in place, my resilience seemed unending. I read more, took leisurely evening walks, and taught myself how to braid my hair. I foolishly imagined I could avoid the introspection last year demanded by simply doing more. Productivity acted as the panacea for the neverending boredom and stress. But my well-being isn’t a sprint I can outrun. One year into social distancing and my resolve is rapidly depleting. 

Self-care is essential but my pandemic burnout won’t be resolved by face masking and meditation apps. I must give myself more grace; turn the radical compassion I try to give to others to myself as well. At twenty-seven, I’m beginning to treat myself more delicately. As a woman, especially a Black one, it feels selfish to prioritize myself. Each day the news presents another crisis which demands my full attention. A neverending to-do list plays in the background of my thoughts. Why should I divest energy from the world around me to turn my focus inwards? 

I foolishly imagined I could avoid the introspection last year demanded by simply doing more. Productivity acted as the panacea for the neverending boredom and stress. But my well-being isn’t a sprint I can outrun. One year into social distancing and my resolve is rapidly depleting. 

Self-loathing initially confronted this pandemic wall, but I’m realizing there are better tools. I’m trying to care for myself like the children I hope I might one day have; I’m finally learning to parent myself. Only when I pour into myself first am I able to be present and show up for my loved ones. When my own cup is empty, I simply can’t expect myself to give back to my own community. 

What does parenting yourself mean? For me, it means creating a space where I move beyond simply existing and am able to flourish. It also implies an acceptance that wellness is a long-term destination. Some moments along this journey will be uncomfortable; some days I’ll feel the growing pains more than others. To create this environment, I am finding inspiration from the ways my loved ones show their affection. I immediately think of my own parents and the tactical ways they cared for me as a child: bedtime routines, limited screen time, and at least one vegetable at every meal. 

I’m also remembering other times—a particularly stressful week my senior year of high school when my dad forced me to stay home because I was sleep-deprived and needed a day to rest. Or my mom, who helped me to cultivate spontaneity and encouraged me to invest in my hobbies. She encouraged my traditional successes but never at the expense of my own sense of self. Her persistence gave me the permission to explore the ways I’m multifaceted; to not allow myself to be defined solely by my material successes. 

However, in some ways, I am diverting from the lessons my parents taught me. The topic of mental health rarely made its way to dinner table conversations, and in a year defined by self-discovery, I am realizing I must ruthlessly invest in my own. My dad poured himself into his small business to provide stability for his family, but my own well-being must take precedence over my career. Maybe your own parents act as a precautionary tale rather than a guidebook. But the people who raised you do not own the idea of parenting nor are they the only ones who help to define the term. I am pulling inspiration from other members of my tribe who taught me different expressions of love. 

I’m finally learning to parent myself. Only when I pour into myself first am I able to be present and show up for my loved ones.

Take inventory of your own community. What are the ways they make you feel safe? What are the ways they inspire you? Some of these things could be small; a friend sends me the occasional text message reminding me to drink enough water and go outside. Another friend sends me handwritten letters once a season; they serve as a reminder to turn off my screens and pause for a moment. 

When my inner voice begins wallowing in self-criticism, these actions serve as my first layer of defense. Over time, I am also learning the aspects of my lifestyle which are essential: sleeping enough, genuine social connection, and journaling, while I let go of the pieces which no longer serve me. There is no mastering self-compassion or even finding the perfect way to parent yourself; it’s a lifelong endeavor.

But I, for one, am excited to keep learning.

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