I’m what most people would call a young mother. I recently turned 27, and in roughly eight weeks I will welcome my third child into the world. To be perfectly honest, parenting has largely been a trial-and-error experience for me. Since I was so young when I started, I had very few friends to look to who were parents as I approached each new phase of motherhood.
In four years of parenting, I have learned a lot about how important my own emotional wellness is to raising my children. After plenty of failed attempts to put my own health on the back burner so I could care for my family, I’ve realized that it cannot be an either/or situation. If you are a young adult who believes parenting may be anywhere in your future, here are five emotional wellness skills to develop now that translate to parenting later.
Strip decision-making of people-pleasing
For many young adults, understanding how to make decisions independently of what others expect of you is a natural part of growing older. As you explore your independence from your parents and become more secure in your identity, you may find what is best for you doesn’t always align with what others would choose for you.
Similarly, as a parent, you have to make each decision based on your child and their unique needs, and this often means going against the grain of how you were raised or how the people around you are raising their children. Learning to make decisions objectively now, based on what is best for your unique circumstances, will become a crucial part of making the countless decisions you’ll face as a parent every day.
Learn the difference between self-comfort and self-care
A friend recently introduced me to this concept. Self-comfort refers to the easy things we reach for when we are feeling spent that do not play an active role in our emotional health, such as TV, a sweet treat or a shopping trip. In comparison, self-care involves activities that are important to your emotional growth and wellness, such as prayer, meditation, journaling and exercise.
There is a time and place for self-comfort, but learning to prioritize self-care when time is limited will become a valuable asset to maintaining your wellness when your time is dictated by the demands of parenthood.
Start speaking up when you need help
Our Western culture places a lot of emphasis on developing self-sufficiency as we transition into adulthood. But if parenting has taught me anything, it is that independence will only get you so far when things get hard. Making a habit of putting aside your pride and speaking up now when you need help will be essential to maintaining balance during the hardest seasons of parenthood.
Practice gratitude daily
In the corner of the internet devoted to parents, “gratitude” has become a sort of buzzword. There is a reason it gets so much attention from those of us in this season of life. Parenting can be hard and it can be exhausting, but it is also incredibly rewarding. Without a daily habit of giving thanks, it can be easy to become consumed with the more difficult aspects of raising children. Start the practice now, as a young adult, and you will find it easily translates into parenthood.
Create strong boundaries
As a parent, learning to say no is one skill that you cannot neglect. Your time will be limited, and putting your family’s needs first often means saying no to other people in your life. Sometimes, this will mean turning down a get-together so your kids can nap or get to bed at a normal hour or declining an invitation to grab drinks after work so you can head home and be with your family.
By developing strong boundaries now that protect your emotional health and your closest relationships, you will have this skill when you have the well-being of your children to protect as well.
Young adulthood is a valuable time of self-discovery and personal growth. A wholehearted embrace of the many lessons presented to you will not only benefit you now but travel with you if you choose the journey of parenthood later in your life.
Originally published on May 4, 2017.