The Loop of Needs – When Care for Ourselves Becomes Care for our Children
Same as how it is important for children to have their needs satisfied so that they can feel pleasant, parents also have needs, whose sating they often postpone, putting the needs of their children ahead of their own.
People are essentially simple beings: all we want is to feel good, for things to be nice and to feel satisfied. The shortest path to pleasant feelings is to satisfy our needs: to be warm and have nice meals (physical needs), to be respected, acknowledged and loved (social/emotional needs), to be free to explore new experiences and to be creative (mental/intellectual), and to be independent and to have inner balance (spiritual). Trouble starts when for some reason, it is not possible to directly satisfy our needs – unsatisfied needs lead to unpleasant feelings, and unpleasant feelings lead to inadequate behavior.
When it comes to children, who lack conscious control of impulses and the ability to delay gratification, typical reactions occur – crying, rolling on the floor, being stubborn – which can cause parents to be confused, desperate or frustrated. And situations like this contain the essence of the parent-child dynamic: the reaction of the parent to the child’s unsatisfied need represents the foundation for the formation of the personality of the child, a future member of the adult community.
Same as how it is important for children to have their needs satisfied so that they can feel pleasant, parents also have needs, whose sating they often postpone, putting the needs of their children ahead of their own. The accelerated lifestyle tempo and the demands of modern civilization sometimes lead to a complete shift in priorities – from the child’s and own needs to activities that provide your livelihood.
In such cases, since no one’s needs are satisfied, a certain sort of toxic displeasure appears, which gets progressively worse, leading to a gap in the parent-child relationship, which leads to a lack of self-confidence and independence of the child and their trust in parents.
What can parents do to balance the needs in their lives and the satisfaction of their children?
First of all, one should understand and acknowledge that satisfying primary, physical needs (livelihood) is a necessity, but that all other needs (play, learning new things, respect, love and so on) are important as conditions for happiness, which, when it’s present, allows us to deal with everyday life challenges more easily.
In the endless sea of family and business obligations and activities, parents yearn for order and structure, which often seem distant and unachievable. Understanding and accepting the importance of balance between professional obligations – which are your livelihood – and family activities – raising a new generation of responsible citizens – is the first step to establishing a certain rational order in which it is possible to both work hard on providing for your family and to feel good and satisfied while doing it.
The second step is to apply a system which we could call life economics – some activities (whether professional, family or personal) we truly need to perform (ensuring we have meals, paying bills, quality time with the children), and some we don’t, i.e. we can postpone them without major consequences for a more convenient time (e.g. doing the laundry and/or dishes now, cleaning the rest of the apartment another time). It is also desirable to differentiate between the aforementioned types of activities and in that way see that there are far fewer activities we need to do than we normally thought.
Try it yourself: Make a list of activities you planned for tomorrow or before the end of the week. Then, indicate next to each activity – after thinking it through carefully – whether it is something you truly need to do, or if something else should be given priority. After you mark all activities, ask yourself: did you list an activity which includes spending quality time with your children? And what about an activity which pertains to time for yourself? Think, which moments truly fulfill you and give you the energy needed to deal with the rest of the apartment?
Love shared with our loved ones and time spent with them is something we need to ensure so that our satisfaction that comes from these moments can serve as a model for building satisfaction in our children.
Planning chores and activities usually means there are many of those chores and activities. In the majority of cases, they are all more or less stressful, and if we were to be completely honest, even the planning process itself is stressful. How to dedicate quality time to your children or yourself, when all we want after a hard day filled with obligations is to sit down in our favorite chair, and in the best case, drift into the careless world of dreams?
That is precisely the thing: quality time dedicated to oneself means active work on overcoming psycho-physical stress. Actively working on oneself also includes sitting in your favorite chair, but not being completely passive for the next few hours, but a clear goal – several dozens of minutes of rest before doing (an also planned) activity together with the child. Most frequently, if you have made plans with the child and they know and expect that you need a short break before you can dedicate yourself to them, they will be patient and respect your daily ritual. Routines, prior agreement and consistency in respecting the deal make daily family interactions easier and more sensible.
The thing that people perhaps overlook the most often when they want to be a caring parent is, paradoxically, care for oneself. Since they often believe that it is necessary to commit all your free time to children, parents are usually haunted by guilt even if they dedicate a small part of that time to themselves.
However, as we mentioned earlier, quality time for yourself is the requirement for the quality time dedicated to the child.
Short-term, in situations when we are tired, under stress, or when we are faced with a child being disobedient, it is necessary to do something to ‘cool’ the situation before we react in a manner we will regret later.
Strategies or techniques for self-regulation allow us to exercise control over ourselves in situations when our needs are not fulfilled, and we are expected to fulfill the needs of children. Simply counting to 10 and the other way around, from 10 to 1, a deep breath and holding your breath for 3-5 seconds, or simply leaving the room briefly (while announcing that you’re doing it to calm down and that you will return) are the simplest self-regulation strategies, whose short-term goal is to place your feelings under your conscious control, and to react in accordance with the child’s needs. Remember: The child is a child, and you are an adult. If you show the child a certain pattern of behavior and you repeat it often, chances are that it will, in the long run, start behaving in accordance with it.
Long-term, planning activities for yourself is something you need to do – even just 15 minutes a day – it increases your tolerance threshold for frustration because your needs are sated (at least to a certain degree). That means you will be under stress less often – because you rested in your chair or went out for fresh air or jogged a few kilometers – and thus your capacity for surmounting challenges of the child’s unsatisfied needs will be greater. So in the long-term, you are building the foundation which will act as a reservoir where you will have room for the child’s frustrations, you will be able to absorb them and react in an adequate, mature way, showing the child that the best way to react to unsatisfied needs (later, life challenges) with a ‘cool head’.
Whether we are talking from the perspective of 2020, or if we’re in the fantastic year 2220, chances are that the most important thing for children is to have their needs sated – that they can play and learn, to feel safe, acknowledged and loved. They need their parents as someone to provide structure, as figures of authority, who will, with their calmness and rationality, act as an example for how to act. If we want our children to grow up to be better versions of ourselves, we need to first take care of them, and ourselves be better versions of ourselves.