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Turns Out Being a Good Parent Is Bad for Your Health

Photograph by Twenty20

When a parent is empathetic, there are numerous benefits for their children. The children are less likely to be aggressive, less likely to suffer from depression, and are more empathetic themselves, which translates into more fulfilling relationships. Children also report having a higher self-esteem and purpose in life. Parents also gain documented benefits of higher self-esteem.

However, there is a dark side to empathy.

A new study out of Northwestern University reveals that parental empathy can cause a host of health problems. So if you thought that putting your kids first might not be all that good for you, you were right.

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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 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 OK 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 Erika M. Manczak doesn't advise that parents stop caring for their children. "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 tells Quartz, "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 thingsā€”it's actually critical for their own mental and physical health."

So, mommies, it's super important that you don't sacrifice too much of yourselves for the sake of your little ones. We all love our children, and it's perfectly OK 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. After all, if you're more rested, then your children will probably be better off, as well. So go on and be selfish!

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Here are some best practices for better self-care:

1. Meditate: There has been numerous studies done that document the benefits of meditation. And with so many different types of mediation, it's easier than ever to find one that suits your personality. So go ahead, breathe, close your eyes, candle gaze or try a guided meditation.

2. Get Moving: Exercise is great for your body and clearly has health benefits. It also pumps up feel-good hormones like endorphins. Even if you go for a short walk after dinner, it will give you a much-needed boost.

3. Get Out: Socialization has been shown to be better for your health. So get out there with your gal pals for pedicures, have a date night with your partner or join a group to learn a new hobby.

4. Sleep & Eat Healthy: These two should be fairly obvious. The human body cannot survive without adequate sleep and proper nutrition. Make sure you are getting enough rest, eating well and drinking plenty of fluids!

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