5 Ways Your Kids Need to See You Take Care of Yourself

My son walked through the door and asked, “Dad, can we talk?” He’d been trying to sort through some things he wanted to change about himself, and he’d arrived at a bit of an epiphany. “I’ve realized I do a really bad job taking care of myself. And that’s in part because I’ve never seen that modeled, because you don’t take care of yourself either.” My knee-jerk reaction was to get defensive, but the problem was he was 100% correct.

I hate the fact that my own unwillingness to prioritize my needs created challenges for my son. But what did I think would happen? As the old saying goes, things are caught more than they’re taught. While I would often encourage my son to take care of himself, my lack of attentiveness to my own needs—be it my health or just doing things I enjoy—was clear and taught him a not-so-subtle lesson about whether he should care about his (and of course, I learned this from my dad, who refused to prioritize his own needs). If we want our children to value caring about themselves, then they need to see it in action. Here are 5 ways your kids need to see you take care of yourself.

1. Do hard things.

Are you someone who likes to put things on the credit card and figure out how to pay for it later? Do you avoid exercise because you just never have the time? Are you incapable of turning work off? All of these things, and more, are things we often fall into because it’s just easy. It’s easy to use the credit card or stay on the sofa or numb yourself with work. It’s hard to do the opposite. And while doing hard things doesn’t sound like self care, that’s often where the payoff is. Stable finances, good health and setting boundaries at work are essential practices that bear real fruit in our lives if we’re willing to put in some effort.

2. Unplug.

Have you found yourself frustrated over the amount of time your kids spend on their phones only to discover that in every spare moment you have you, too, you’re opening up an app or watching a video or responding to a text? Have you wished your kids would be more present with your family, and yet you are readily available to people from work at any time of day to reach you via text or call? It’s easy to characterize young people as addicted to technology, but when I watch people texting and driving, it’s hardly a “young people problem.” How will our kids have a vision for a life that isn’t tied to devices if they don’t see us model it for them?

3. Cultivate friendship.

The data is out on the value of relational connections. According to the U.S. Surgeon general, loneliness is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And yet, loneliness is growing among Americans. Men in particular can struggle to prioritize friendships. With responsibilities at home and work, it’s easy to see spending time with friends as a luxury you just can’t afford. And yet, having meaningful friendships is self care at its most basic level. Author Lydia Densworth, who wrote the book Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond, said that “we think of friends as this lovely thing—but it’s actually a matter of life and death.” If having friends is that important, then not only should you prioritize connecting with people you care about for yourself, but you want to model that value for your kids so they will, hopefully, replicate it.

4. Prioritize joy.

How often do you do something just because it brings you joy? Whether it’s spending time with your kids, going on a bike ride, playing an instrument, or any number of other things. As adults we often get so consumed with the necessary tasks (work, dinner, running to practice…) that we lose touch with those things that just make us happy. But that’s the stuff that makes life meaningful. Make sure you model joy for your kids. And even more, introduce them to things that bring you joy so you can enjoy them together. It’s a great way to self care. Watching someone you love find joy in what brings you joy is a pretty powerful experience.

5. Care for your soul.

In the midst of the grind of every day life, we can rush through meals, skimp on sleep and neglect exercise. These are all things our physical body needs if it’s going to flourish. But if we’re quick to neglect our physical needs, we’re even more likely to overlook the very real needs our soul has to be nourished. Practices like prayer, worship and service to others, are by their very nature interruptions to our frenetic lifestyles. They cause us to pause and be still when everything in us wants to move faster. When our culture demands we ramp up our production, these practices press us into finding our worth apart from what we produce. Find a person who exudes wisdom, compassion, patience, or grace, and I guarantee you that person practices soul care. This won’t happen by accident. It takes effort and intention. But the payback is immense in terms of who you— and, by your example, your children—are becoming.

Sound off: Do you find it easy to prioritize self care? Why or why not?

Check out the All Pro Dad team discussing this topic on this podcast episode.

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What are some good ways to take care of ourselves?”