It makes perfect sense that empathetic parents see kids with notable benefits. They feel more secure, are more likely to exhibit empathy toward others and have lower instances of aggression and depression. There are benefits for the parents as well, including better self-esteem when it comes to evaluating themselves as parents, plus a sense of connection with their child. However, new evidence suggests that this connection tears parents up inside physically.
A team from Northwestern University found a surprising correlation between parental empathy and physical damage of cells. While the children of empathetic parents fared much better than their non-empathetically raised peers — both physically and emotionally — their parents were far more likely to experience chronic, low-grade inflammation.
Parents who were able to understand their children and respond to their emotional needs were better off psychologically, as were their children. However, when the children of empathetic parents experienced physical or emotional pain, the parents’ physiological response was a weakened immune system and increased inflammation.
Since empathy encourages a parent to go through the same emotional experience as their child while setting aside their own personal feelings and needs, it is unsurprising that this type of parenting leads to higher stress and inflammatory markers. While the benefits of empathetic parenting are phenomenal for the child and result in a better overall family dynamic, parents need to understand that their own physical and emotional needs must be met in order to maintain their health.
It is important for parents to not only include their needs in the mix of the whole family, but to put their needs first. Parents who practice empathetic parenting are much more likely to take care of everyone else’s needs before their own, and if they do not put their health first, they risk letting their own needs fall by the wayside.
Parents should prioritize a healthy lifestyle for themselves, making sure they eat balanced meals, shower, get exercise, get enough sleep and find time to indulge in the things they enjoy.
Parents need to tend to themselves in the same manner in which they tend to their children’s needs. By putting their needs first, they can better empathize with their children without putting their own health on the line.