The joy of parenting comes with some side effects—loss of sleep, likelihood of wearing yoga pants 24/7, the inability to eat a peaceful meal, and millions others. We put our kids first because we love them and it’s best for them, but is that hurting our overall health?
According to a new study out of Northwestern University, parental empathy can cause a host of health problems.
The study looked at correlations between psychological and physiological markers in 247 pairs of parents and their children during a 14-day period. The 13 to 16-year-olds wrote in diaries that were monitored by the researchers to see how they felt about their parents and life situations. The teenagers also had their blood samples checked regularly.
To measure the parents' level of empathy, researchers analyzed their reaction to the level of stress in their children and their perception of the quality of the parent-child bond and the time spent together culturing that bond.
While it was clear that the kids benefited emotionally and physically from having more empathetic parents, it turned out that the parents usually suppressed their own emotions and gave up healthy habits and good routines so they could take care of their children, which then led to systematic cellular inflammation and elevated stress hormones.
We all love our children, and it's perfectly okay to put their needs above your own temporarily. But if this becomes the new normal, then health issues are guaranteed to be in your future.
Despite the disturbing findings, lead author of the study, Erika M. Manczak, doesn't advise that parents stop caring for their children. She said in a statement, "I would absolutely hate for parents to be less empathetic. What this tells us is that parents need to make time for their own mental and physical health, and understand that it is a disservice to themselves and their children if they are not."
Manczak continued, "Parents simply need to be more mindful of self-care. Things like getting enough sleep, exercising, and reducing stress are all related to these types of immune processes... It's not selfish for parents to make time for those things—it's actually critical for their own mental and physical health."
Main message: Don't sacrifice too much of yourselves for the sake of your little ones. We all love our children, and it's perfectly okay to put their needs above your own temporarily. But if this becomes the new normal, then health issues are guaranteed to be in your future. It’s all about balance.