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Why looking after ourselves will bring out the best in our children

Wise words from Kids Matter Director and Clinical Child Psychologist Eli Gardner, about the importance of looking after ourselves, as parents, to ensure the well-being of our children…

“I dedicate all my time to my children who need me.”

“After I’ve done the children, the housework and meals, I’m too tired to think about me!”

These are common statements from exhausted parents of young children. The idea of looking after ‘me’ feels selfish, indulgent, way down the priority list, can be delayed until the kids are older and frankly a bit ridiculous: “ Time for me? have you seen my life?!”

When I was raising my three children, they were pretty much my sole preoccupation along with managing the home. Each day would leave me feeling wrung out and tired but also anxious and low in confidence when I felt the day had gone badly and I hadn’t parented well. With any of my own interests/hobbies/work put on hold forever it would seem, all my self worth came from how well my children behaved or how well the day went.

I’m a Clinical Child Psychologist who has worked with hundreds of families of all shapes, sizes and demographics. Again and again working with families, I see the main carer looking haggard, tired, unkempt whilst their children are often nicely turned out, with latest trainers on or gadgets in hand. Parents often prioritise all their time, money and attention on their children, partners and homes, leaving themselves as last and least. But the truth is that we are NOT being the best parents that way. We are in fact preventing our children from growing up well.

My message to the parents who I meet who are worried about their child is always the same: “you want your child to be happy/less clingy/ have more friends? Then you need to get a life that your child can see makes YOU happy and isn’t to do with them”. So often, the root of a child’s problem can be found in a parent’s unhappiness and unfulfilled life/partnership/work/finances/body image etc. If our children think they are all we have, and that they are responsible for how happy we are, then they will be unable to leave, be independent and flourish in the world.

When I understood this basic principle, I re-engaged with work part time, made time for friends, exercise and rest, and contrary to my fears, my children seemed relieved and started to really thrive without the pressure of being the sole sustainers of my soul! So, in sum: the least selfish thing you can do for your child is to look after…YOU.

If you’d like to find out more about Kids Matter or would like to get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at And for more on our IMPACT, click here.

Photo Credit: Charlie Mackesy

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