Who defines or measures how you show up for your children?
Too often, we judge and usually condemn ourselves for coming up short. Or we create a measure of what showing up means by mirroring what we THINK others might expect from us. And that may make us feel like we can’t show up for ourselves because it’s too selfish. The truth is, showing up is not just needed for our child in crisis and the rest of our family; it’s needed for ourselves too.
Similar to flight instructions when you’re on a plane. You put your mask on first before helping others put their masks on. Showing up for yourself ensures you’re capable and available to show up for your children, even if you don’t know how to do so without feeling guilty. You’ve probably been told to take time for yourself by getting the rest you need, going to therapy, or even going to the spa. Those are all really good things to do, especially therapy. For myself, it took therapy to point me to the book, Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend; and that, my friends, is what started my journey to healing. Between going to therapy and reading the book, I gained a whole new toolbox with new tools to use. Because, let’s face it, to show up, sometimes you have to say “no.” But knowing when and how can be tricky, and we may need help. Especially for those who might have been raised NOT to say “no.”
Stress and trauma can take a huge toll on our bodies.
I’m not good at taking care of myself or my needs, to the point that it finally resulted in full-blown grand mal seizures. I was strapped to many machines and had so many tests to make sure, but the final results were that these seizures were a manifestation of stress. More stress than my body could handle. There are three things I’ve learned that have helped me the most. First, a neurologist once shared a garbage can analogy with me. She said that if you don’t empty the garbage can, the lid will eventually NOT stay on. That’s what happened: my lid eventually flipped, quite literally, resulting in my first grand mal seizure. You have to find an outlet; the more physical, the better. Physical exercise has been proven to be a great releaser of stress. According to Heidi Godman’s article in Health Harvard, “… even a quick 10-minute walk when you’re feeling triggered can help “burn off” stress hormones, counter muscle tension, and release the body’s feel-good chemicals, which promote relaxation.”
My therapist told me it takes two to play tennis, and it was ok not to hit the ball back. It’s also ok to take time to let them know you’ll get back to them after you’ve had some time to process. Ultimately, you DO NOT have to hit the ball back. You decide! Boundaries didn’t just give me a new toolbox full of new tools. Between role-playing with my therapist and reading the book, I gained the courage to use these new tools to become a better and healthier me (it’s a long process that I’m still working on, or as they say, the road to success is always under construction.) Becoming a better, healthier person allowed me to “show up” for my kids the way they needed me to show up and to be more aware of how I could be a better parent. They may never see or acknowledge your hard work to morph yourself into a better parent or even recognize the changes you made, and that’s ok. It has to be enough to know that you’re breaking patterns and building a better future for yourself and your children as they grow into adulthood.
In The Power of Showing Up, authors Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. define showing up as being there for your kids this way: “It means being physically present, as well as providing a quality of presence. Provide it when you’re meeting their needs; when you’re expressing your love to them; when you’re disciplining them; when you’re laughing together; even when you’re arguing with them. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to read all the parenting bestsellers or sign your kids up for all the right enrichment activities. You don’t have to have a committed co-parent. You don’t even have to know exactly what you’re doing. Just show up.”
Have you thought about the way your parents showed up for you? It’s easy to compensate for the way our own parents did or didn’t show up. I encourage you to check in with yourself to make sure you’re inspired but not transferring your own childhood needs on to your children but instead to see them as individuals with their own uniqueness. Maybe ask your children to share with you what “showing up” means to them. If they get stuck, help them see your efforts, they may not know what it looks like. Check with them to see if they have other ways they’d like for you to show up. I also encourage you to look for opportunities to show appreciation to them when they show up for you. Most importantly, I’d like you to consider writing yourself a letter and making a commitment to how you’ll begin to show up for yourself.