After facilitating, and listening to a group of moms at a camp for kids with Juvenile Arthritis, I am thinking about the issues surrounding self-care more deeply.
It’s been over 10 years since my own child was diagnosed with a rare, autoimmune illness and I’ve been teaching and facilitating writing and support groups for many years that deal with the full complement of issues that bubble up on this life journey. But today made me remember some basics about self-care and its importance in parenting a child with any health issue.
#1 Every parent wants to be there for their child but how do you care for someone if you are a wet noodle on the floor, exhausted mentally and physically?
Corresponding concerns around this dilemma involve these questions:
Are my mom/parent needs important? Do I deserve to take care of myself? Even if I think the answer to these questions is yes, there’s simply no time left for me.
#2 Ah ha! the Time issue–or how to carve out space and time for yourself
Some suggestions from the moms I spoke to include: Leave a white space on your calendar. Or, actually put something ON the calendar that is for you. Make sure you have a weekly or monthly STANDING event, like a phone call with a friend or family member, or a regular date for tea, wine or a walk.
#3 I asked them to think about what they do that is both a relief AND a pleasure. Maybe they do only something that is a relief, but I know that something that also brings pleasure is enlivening. Some other suggestions included:
a hot bath, reading a novel, getting your hair or nails “done”, taking a class in (meditation, yoga, exercise), taking a walk with your child (there’s an idea!), date night with someone.
#4 Which brings me back to the issue of, are my needs important? Again, if you can say yes to this, how do you let others (your kids, your partner/spouse/friends) know what you need?
One woman said that now that her kids are older (10 & 15) she says to them, “I have needs too, and I’m going to go to my room for awhile and be alone.” Another woman said she says to her friends, “I need some time with you.” I also suggested that we start saying to friends and family members that “I don’t want you to fix me or my problems, I just need you to listen.” This can be hard or a relief for some friends; it’s certainly worth trying out.
A single parent said that going to therapy was exactly what she needed and someone else made a plea for understanding mental health needs and issues. The more we talk about them and bring them out of the dark closet of shame, the better off we all are.
#5 There might be other reasons or barriers that we set up for ourselves so we don’t make time for self-care. Try to figure out what those might be and see if you can find 1 thing that you can let go of to make room. Then, do 1 thing for yourself and see what happens. Did you feel anxious not doing the thing you usually do? Did you feel good doing the new thing? Did you feel guilty? Just notice them. Then try it again. And again.
Or find a different thing that is still self-caring but maybe doesn’t bring as much anxiety. Work up to something once a week. Then once a day, even if it’s lying on the couch with a book over your face and a cup of tea nearby. Seriously, pretty soon, your kids will learn that this is your time. And they will also learn that it’s ok to take a little time for oneself.
They will see, and feel you return to them with a bit more energy, more focus, less stress. Even for a minute or two. Win, win.