Wellbeing. What does it mean? And how does your wellbeing affect you and your family?

Wellbeing is a balance between your resources and your challenges. There are psychological, social and physical dimensions on both sides. It is not static; our wellbeing changes. Our resources can increase, like when we manage to fit in an evening out with friends, or they can decrease, like when you don’t get out on your regular run. Our challenges can increase and decrease in the same way. If a relative becomes ill, your challenges will increase and your wellbeing will be affected. Alternatively, if a friend who you were concerned about begins to do better, your challenges decrease. You can visualize it like this:

As a parent, it can be hard to focus on your own wellbeing. It can feel selfish, or extravagant, or unnecessary. There are always, it seems, more important things that need your attention: cleaning, grocery shopping, returning emails, helping with homework, swimming lessons to get to, and so on and so on and so on. In fact, your wellbeing is vital to not only your own health, but that of your family. Sometimes it can be easier to see the affect of your wellbeing on your family when you think about the other way round. What happens when you are not looking after your wellbeing; when you are tired, or hungry, or distracted by work stress? How do you interact with your family in those moments?

Personally, I am less patient with my children and my partner, I’m quicker to anger, quicker to make assumptions about other’s motivations and behaviours, and perhaps most profoundly, I am not able to help my children regulate their big emotions. The cycle can look something like this: I go to bed late and am tired the next day; after getting through my day, I come home to shoes and coats strewn in the entry way. In my exhausted state, I immediately go to my script of, “why am I the only one who picks up things around here?!” My greeting to my family is, “Why is this place always a mess?” My daughter, who has had a tough day at school, immediately shoots back, “Why do we always have to clean up instead of play?” Before you know it, the moment I’ve been waiting for – reconnecting with my family – has become a scene of anger and irritability. If I want to salvage this moment, I am going to have to regulate myself quickly so that I can help my daughter regulate and we can re-establish a connection. Regulating myself might look like me taking a breath and pausing just long enough to remind myself that this is not the way I want to come home. Regulating my daughter might look like me talking softly and saying, “Sorry, that’s not the way I wanted to come home. I’ve been looking forward to seeing you” and then giving her a hug. None of this is to say that I’m forgetting about the mess in the entrance way, but I can deal with that once I’ve connected with my family, and I can do it in a manner that is less confrontational. If I had better wellbeing, was less tired when I walked in the door, I may have been able to be less combative from the beginning.

Our children learn by watching us as well. How we model self-care will be how they learn self-care. If we want our children to grow up resilient and healthy, we had better start by looking after ourselves. Modelling is one of the most powerful teaching tools there is.

Increasing our resources does not have to take a long time. We can build up our psychological, social and physical resources in quick, easy ways. Wellbeing strategies such as breathing, setting an intention, and savouring can be built into our days. Learning about self-compassion so that we don’t beat ourselves up when we are less than fabulous with our families is also a worthwhile and positive step.

If you are interesting in learning more about wellbeing and some strategies to increase wellbeing, join me at a Parent Wellness workshop. The next one is May 29th in North Vancouver.