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For me, as a new parent I found it difficult to find a balance between meeting the needs of my son and my own needs. I was inclined to view my own needs as being selfish and an inadequacy within me that equated to selfishness.

In my case, I grew up perceiving my mother to be very selfish, and as an older adult, I conclude that this was an accurate observation. This caused me to have a psychological dilemma when I felt the need to have activities or time for myself while caring for a young child. This was later exacerbated by the death of my husband, leaving me as the, truly, sole carer of three young children.

This was many years ago and I have since found such a balance, but I felt it would be a good question to help new parents struggling with this issue.

How can a parent realistically find a healthy balance between meeting the needs of their child/ren and their own needs? How does one evaluate their own desires as being reasonable or whether it crosses over into selfishness?

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Do you know it's perfectly fine (even encouraged!) to answer your own questions? I'm sure you've got some useful experience to share! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 29 '13 at 20:56
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4 Answers

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I've learned I'm still learning that one of the most important differences between children and parents is that parents are generally able to recognize that they can delay meeting their own needs for a short while. Kids can't do that. Kids need their parents now, or at least they think they do.

As parents, we must help our children to tell the difference between which of their needs are really immediate (an open wound) and which are not (hungry). I know that a two-year old can't tell the difference. A three-year-old can, but only if it's been trained. A seven-year-old must have enough self-control to be patient for ten or even thirty minutes. It all depends on the time frame. With small kids, parents have almost no flexibility except that for instance I'll allow myself an urgent bathroom break before changing a diaper. Older kids can be kept waiting longer, and even for bigger issues.

That's all on the "micro" time scale though. Zooming out some, parents also need some bigger time periods for themselves. I don't mean two weeks in the Bahamas and leaving the toddlers at home, of course, but you can't always but the kids first. There needs to be time to recharge, time for renewal, for retrospection - and that can't be done in a quick bathroom break. This is important and needs to be planned or else it will be drowned out in the noise of everyday life. Again, when you've got small kids you can usually get away from them for an hour or three, if you got someone to cover. Bigger kids can be left in the care of extended family for a few days while the parents take a few nights at a spa resort.

For me, the hardest part is to think coolly in a heated situation. It takes mental capacity to remember that I can relax when he's in bed; right now his needs are more important than mine. Parenting is an ongoing sacrifice, and it can be hard to accept that sacrifice in the heat of the moment, despite we as adults and parents having more capacity to cope.

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For me, it boils down to recognizing the difference between importance and urgency. Things can be both important and urgent, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, or neither important nor urgent. You should prioritize them in that order.

Helping a screaming infant is both important and urgent. You drop everything to help as soon as possible. Reading a book to your 4 year-old is important, but not urgent. A parent's need for some alone time is equally important, so it's okay to postpone the book reading for a while when you need a break.

Parents get burned out when they treat every request their child makes as urgent.

The other thing I've found is I can often make compromises so my interests align with my children's. For example, sometimes I really need some peace and quiet, but my kids want to spend time with me, so I'll condition it on them watching quietly. We each make a small sacrifice instead of just the parent making a bigger one. When the parents are the only ones sacrificing that makes for burned out parents and entitled kids.

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Ooh, a fellow Covey fan. /waves/ –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 30 '13 at 6:21
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Always be true to yourself. If you feel like helping your kids do it. Never do it out of responsibility or do it because you feel you have to.

Emergencies exempted, I always try to talk to my kids and tell them that I will tend to their needs later. I try not to feel that I "sacrifice" my time to tend to their needs over mine. I find that if I do that, it always results in me starting to feel resentful if they want more or just do not show the appropriate response for something that I have done. Having some time to ourselves is not selfish, it's normal and we should maintain that in order for the relationship to be healthy.

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I think this is a valid point. I am hoping you can elaborate a bit more. As it stands, this answer is more like a comment than a complete answer. Could you please edit it and write some more ty. I am happy to help you correct your English. –  user4784 Oct 7 '13 at 8:25
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Happy parents make better parents. If you can't meet your own needs, you won't be able to meet your children's needs.

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