tend to yourself first
On a recent trip overseas, there was the usual message before take-off about safety measures. “In case of loss of cabin pressure, masks will drop from the overhead compartments. If traveling with children fit your own mask first before attending to your child.” Why is this so? The typical instinct of a parent is to put the mask on the child first before putting it on himself / herself. However, it is safer for the parent to put on the mask first so that he or she can remain conscious and alert to assist the child during an emergency.
As I reflected on this, there are lessons we can draw from this safety announcement on raising our children. Firstly, parents should first take care of their own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being before they can take care of their children. I know sacrificial parenting is highly valued in our Asian culture whereby our parents would suffer and make sacrifices for the sake of their children. I remembered my mother often giving me more food while she ate less. It showed her love and care for me. However, such sacrificial parenting will be unhealthy in the long run. Imagine if my mother were to continue eating less, she would have less nutrition and her health would deteriorate. A parent with poor health will not be able to take care of his or her children. It is important that parents take care of their own physical and mental health. They should have a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly, watching their diet and going for regular medical examinations. They should also take care of their emotional well-being by having time alone to reflect, relax and de-stress. I know it sounds rather selfish to have some solitary time for ourselves but we need to view it as an essential time to recharge and refresh so that we can be better parents.
Secondly, parents should take care of their primary relationship with God and their secondary relationship with their spouse. Parents are often consumed with taking care of their children that they neglect their relationship with God and with their spouse. The Shema prayer (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) which is recited every morning and evening by the Jews reminds us of our fundamental relationship with God. In this prayer, we are commanded to love God first and love others second. I have observed some parents whose lives revolve solely around their children that they spend little time with God. Some even fail to attend Sunday worship service during their children’s school examinations. Christian parents should be mindful that the foundation of their family should be built on God. A family with weak spiritual foundation disintegrates easily. Thus, parents should treasure and cultivate their primary relationship with God.
In Ephesians 5:22-6:4, the Apostle Paul highlighted the order of importance in family relations. Husbands are to love their wives and wives are to respect and submit to their husbands. Next, children are to honour their parents and parents are to nurture their children. The marriage is an important secondary relationship that parents should strive to improve and cultivate. I have seen some Christians who are good and loving parents but they are bad and unloving husbands or wives. This is a sad trend because children suffer when the marriage of their parents is in trouble. When I was growing up, I wished my parents would have spent more time on their marriage than they did on the children. I think the dynamics in my family would have improved greatly. So parents, do not feel guilty in spending some couple time with your spouse away from your children. Your children will be happier when you have a happier marriage.
Dear parents, I am not advocating that you become so self-focused on your own needs that you neglect your parental responsibilities. But I do believe you become better parents when you take care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. You become better parents when you seek God and His will first. You become better parents when you love and respect your spouse. You become better parents when you tend to yourselves first.
Hambali Leonardi (Hali is the chairman of Children and Youth Committee which oversees the children and youth ministries in St Andrew’s Cathedral. He is on the pastoral team looking after the 8 am and 11:15 am Sunday Service.)
First published in The Courier, January 2011.