Why Caring For Our Children Starts With Caring For Ourselves

Recently, my youngest son came home from college for a holiday weekend, and we were  talking about his adjustment to his first year being away at school. He expressed that learning to take responsibility for managing his time, specifically balancing his work time and play time, has not been an easy transition. Despite these challenges, he has been doing a great job of navigating this tricky phase of his life.

I shared with him a recent article that I had read, one that confirms something I have felt for a long time. The article, Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges, written by Peter Gray, Ph.D talks about striking the balance between nurturing and protecting our children while making sure they are able to be independent, free-thinking, and psychologically whole. It delves into the modern problem of “helicopter parenting,” meaning we hover too closely and don’t give our children opportunities to solve their own problems. The consequence here is that our children are unable to seek their ways out of life’s trials and tribulations. Instead of learning the necessary skills to fix what is broken, they rely on adults to glue the pieces back together.    

As I read the article, I was struck by the similarity between what is being identified in college students today and what I have observed in the beautiful women I’ve worked with over the past ten years, as they move through the ages and stages of their lives. The sad reality is much of this is too hard a truth for many to accept — but it’s a necessary truth.

Our role as mothers is far more important than we could ever imagine, for a number of reasons that I will share with you, but the most important is that if we are not creating our own amazing, fulfilling lives, we can’t expect our children to do the same.

There were many profound observations in Gray’s piece, many of which are applicable to the struggles of daily life:

“Students’ emotional fragility have become a serious problem.”

I observe the emotional fragility of women on a regular basis. So many of us have forgotten just how strong and courageous we really are and, instead, second-guess our abilities to become the women we know we are meant to be. We fill our lives by “being busy,” but just being busy isn’t living.

“There is a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life.”

The same can be seen in so very many women today. As I have written about before, life is a string of transitions, some of which are expected and some of which are not. Learning how to navigate challenge and adversity — and the transitions that result — is critical in our ability to live the lives we truly desire. This ability is one that is learned through mastery, and one we have not been modeling for our children.

“The lack of resilience is interfering with the academic mission (of universities) and is thwarting the emotional and personal development of students.”

I believe that this lack of resilience is directly tied to the lack of resilience of parents today, especially mothers. Perhaps some may take offense to that statement, but as I wrote my principles of Fierce and Feminine Resilience, it became clear that we are unaware of our own resilience, which means we can’t possibly teach it to and model it for our children.

“Students are afraid to fail; they do not take risks; they need to be certain about things.”

The majority of women I speak to and work with are so overwhelmed with fear and doubt that they become paralyzed from taking risks to go out and get what they really want in their lives. When we hide from taking bold action and stepping outside of our comfort zones, we teach our children to be afraid, and that doing nothing is not only the easy path, but also the right one.

“Rates of anxiety and depression among American college students have soared in the last decade, and many more students than in the past come to campus already on medication for such illnesses.”

One in four women today is on an antidepressant, and women are 70 percent more likely to be depressed than men. Whether we want to admit it or not, many of us suffer in the same way that our children do; we are part of this epidemic. We are not to blame, but I wonder, what we can do  to change these statistics and find joy, fulfillment, and peace in our lives?

“There has been a dramatic decline, over the past few decades, in children’s opportunities to play, explore, and pursue their own interests away from adults. Among the consequences…are well-documented increases in anxiety and depression, and decreases in the sense of control of their own lives.”

I ask you honestly, do you give yourself time to play, explore, and pursue your own interests away from your family and career, so that you can nurture the sense of control you have over your own life? If we do not pay the same kind of attention to our own well-beings as we do to that of our children, then how will they learn to nurture and care for themselves?

Motherhood is a form of leadership and, I would wager, the most powerful leadership role you will ever have. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, working or at home, are a corporate professional or entrepreneur; what matters is that you take responsibility to model for your children what it looks like to be happy, healthy, whole, and fulfilled.

The numbers speak for themselves — so exactly what are you going to do about it?

Laura Campbell is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.