As a counselor, I have heard many a tale spun in the confines of my office. Since I work primarily with children, I also work with their parents quite a lot. I can fully attest first hand that my ear has been bent with a lot, and I mean, a lot of complaints, tears, and even the occasional pleadings from parents who are desperate to help their child in some way. Along with this desperation, however, comes a very sad reality. Parents often sacrifice their own sanity or self-care in order to care for their child with a mental health disorder or learning disability. This often leads to a parent not being able to handle the difficulties of such a disorder because they are running on fumes. I’ll be the first to say that if you are running on fumes, you are not any help to your child. This may be a difficult pill to swallow but I can say from the point of view as someone who has worked with children for many, many years that rest and self-care is essential for parents. Imagine with me, if you will, the message that is always shown on airlines before take off. After showing us how to properly buckle our seat belts, they end up showing a clip about putting on oxygen masks in case the cabin pressure gets too low. The most important part of that message is when they say for parents or adults to put on their masks first before assisting children. This concept not only applies during airline travel, but in everyday life as well. We can’t help our kids without the proper equipment or without the proper self-care. The biggest question is, how?
First, recognize if you are running on fumes as a parent. Here are some indicators that you are running on fumes. You’re yelling at your kids more then complimenting them. You’re focusing on the negative things about your child’s behavior or personality more then the positive. You are physically
exhausted and not really being present with your child for important moments. Finally, you start getting sick due to exhaustion and stress. We all experience these symptoms at one time or another, but if you are finding yourself experiencing these symptoms for longer periods of time, then it might be time for you to take a break and rejuvenate yourself. This might involve you scheduling time purposely away from your kids in order to help yourself rest your mind and body.
Second, putting a priority on your own mental, physical, and emotional health is not a crime! As
parents, our children always come first. However, it does our children no good whenever we are not well ourselves. Mom can’t really be there for her family if she’s running a 101-degree temperature. Dad can’t be there for his kiddos if he has a broken arm and can barely take care of things. This requires all of us as parents to actually take the time to take care of our health whether by going to the doctor, taking our prescribed medication, or even going to therapy if necessary. Getting our own help When we are feeling well mentally, physically, and emotionally, we can be a better support for our children.
Third, we can’t walk this journey of parenting alone. I think we can all agree that parenting is
hard work. The biggest mistake that we can make as parents is isolating ourselves from any kind of support. There are times when we as parents tend to get overwhelmed with our child’s problems or behaviors beyond our own skill set. This is where a friend who is also a parent, grandparents, or even aunts and uncles can provide great support or guidance for us. Without it, we often crack under the pressures of parenting.
Fourth, we must be willing to have reasonable expectations of ourselves as parents. We are not
perfect people. Therefore, it is unreasonable for us to expect ourselves to be perfect parents. We can only do our best with the knowledge and skills that we have. Having high expectations only frustrates us and makes our job as parents stressful.
Finally, our identities can’t be wrapped up in our children. I’ve seen this a lot of times throughout the course of working with parents. I see many moms and dads get so absorbed in their children, that they don’t take the time to really go through our own personal growth or development. This can result in us feeling lost or alone when our children grow up and move out. It can also cause us to develop an unhealthy sense of co-dependency on our children. Taking the time to pursue our own goals, dreams, or even hobbies is not a bad thing. It helps us shape who we are as individuals instead of just focusing on our children.
Parenting is difficult especially in these days of quarantining and overall chaos. But it is still one of the most important jobs that we will ever do. The children that are entrusted to our care whether by birth or adoption, are the most precious parts of our lives. As such, we are obligated to give them the best of ourselves. We can’t do that if we don’t have our own proverbial “care tanks” are empty. We can be better parents when we are cared for and healthy ourselves.