Our lives are extraordinarily busy. Home. Work. Chores. Responsibilities. And when we become parents, our worlds become consumed with our children, with meeting their wants and needs and ensuring their happiness. They are the centre around which we oscillate, juggling all our other demands, slotting priorities together until our days end up resembling a rough-hewed jigsaw puzzle. But, it seems to me that often when that puzzle is complete, there are some pieces left over which can’t be fitted in – our own wants and hopes which we carelessly discard without a second thought.
As we shape our lives around everyone else’s needs, putting our children above all else, followed closely by the rest of the world, we most likely feel that we are doing the right thing. We are fulfilling our role, we are prioritising sensibly, we are getting things done. And often what we are doing is right – especially when it comes to our children. But what I truly believe isn’t right is the way that we may forget about ourselves entirely. Because somewhere at the back of our minds, there could be a niggling desire, a tiny voice squeaking out an aspiration to do something for ourselves: Go for a walk. Have a leisurely bath. Go out for dinner. But how often do we firmly hush that troublemaking voice, thinking: ‘There’s no time for any of that’?
Yet in doing so, what example are we setting to our children? What message are we sending out to our tiny, impressionable people if we keep putting ourselves last? If we are willing to forego our own wants in favour of everyone else’s? To me it feels that we could be telling our children that we don’t value ourselves. That we don’t matter. And if our children see us doing this, there is a danger that one day, they won’t value themselves either.
Just because we are utterly devoted mothers and fathers does not mean that we cannot still have our own lives, fulfil our own ambitions, enjoy our own interests – be us. Just because we have a host of pressing demands upon us, be it work or chores or family responsibilities, that doesn’t mean that these should be the whole focus of our lives. We all need space and time for us. We need to be kind to ourselves.
I was reflecting on this recently when I spent the whole day engaged in tasks – childcare, work, shopping, ironing, cleaning, cooking – and it was 10pm before I sat down. And all the time I was thinking ‘I’d love to just read a book,’ but of course, I ignored this want which would have taken me off track. I shouldn’t have done. I should have stopped. Sat down. Picked up a book. Just stopped. It would have been good for my soul. It would have been the kind thing to do on such a busy day when I was utterly frazzled.
And if we are kinder to ourselves, if we are taking care of us, we will have more capacity to be kinder to others. To share a good word. To lend a helping hand. Or, just to give someone a smile, a smile which could give a much-needed lift on a bad day. Being kind is good for everyone’s wellbeing; it makes the person on the receiving end feel valued, and for the one offering the positive reinforcement, they can get a warm feeling from the knowledge that they have made a difference to another human being.
Being kind also allows us to role model behaviour for our children as they will see the benefits, and will come to view it as the standard of behaviour, something we ‘just do.’ For me, kindness is more important than many other measures of success as it’s a way of ‘being’ in the world. I remember my sister-in-law being rightly thrilled when she received feedback from her daughter’s teacher that her little girl was ‘kind’ to other children. And I have watched with happiness as my own daughter generously offers to share her meals; admittedly, a half-eaten sandwich isn’t the most attractive prospect but the sentiment behind it is beautiful.
Kindness can be magical. It can change moods, increase self-esteem and improve wellbeing. Kindness can make the world a better place. And I’m going to start to be a little kinder, to myself and the rest of the world, so that I can be the example I want to be for my girl.