A psychologist explains what too many people get wrong about parenting from the start

Big daddyColumbia PicturesIt’s hard for many parents to understand.

If you’re not ready to sacrifice time, energy, and a little bit of dignity, you’re not ready to have a kid.

Most people know that, simply from observing the way their friends’ lives change when they have children.

What’s harder to accept is that you shouldn’t sacrifice all your time, energy, and dignity when you become a parent.

It’s a common mistake many first-time parents make, says Carl Pickhardt, a psychologist who’s published multiple books about parenting, including, most recently, “Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence.”

Here’s Pickhardt’s view:

“It’s really hard for parents to understand this sometimes — particularly with a first child — but that child is a third-order priority.

“They will tell you it’s not true — it’s a first-order priority. But the problem is if it’s the first priority, then two other priorities get neglected.

“One is each parent taking adequate care of themselves, so they have sufficient energy and care available, and [the other is] taking sufficient care of the marriage. And that has to be in place.

“To sacrifice self-care and marriage for the sake of the child makes everybody unhappy sooner or later.”

If you’re a single parent, the same logic applies — you still need to invest in your friendships and other relationships.

What sometimes happens, Pickhardt said, is that parents self-sacrifice “to the point where they feel the child is tyrannizing their lives.” Then the parents wind up angry and resentful toward the kid, “who isn’t doing anything, except declaring their wants in one way or another.”

Writing on PsychologyToday.com, psychologist Laura Markham recommends that parents practice “radical self-care.”

That might mean taking a day off and leaving the dishes in the sink and the laundry unwashed. Or, it might mean taking little steps to address the problems in your life, rather than putting them on hold until your child’s needs get met.

At first, this might feel uncomfortable. “Particularly with your first child, you just want to give all you got,” Pickhardt said. If you can sit with that discomfort, eventually you may realise that you’re a better parent when you’ve attended to your own needs first.

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