I once worked with a mom who reminded me of where I was just a few years ago (and, if I’m not careful, where I can so easily get to now). She had been fighting the battle to help her children heal for so long that she was….well, exhausted. Emotionally, Physically, Mentally….just utterly exhausted. More times than not I find parents of traumatized kiddos remaining in a constant state of exhaustion over long periods of time, leading to all sorts of ill effects down the road.
Throughout my time of parenting wounded kiddos, I personally have experienced varying degrees of exhaustion; most of the time at levels I truly never knew even existed before parenting these kids. No words could describe the deep, all-encompassing state of weariness I found myself in at times (honestly, a few more times than I’d like to admit); a weariness that had worked it’s way into every level of my being, all the way down to my bones. Weighed down by the boulder of responsibility for children who, through no fault of their own, had too many needs for me to even begin to meet, I would frequently get to a point where I just didn’t think I could handle even one more pebble of responsibility. I felt overwhelmed, alone, tired beyond comprehension, and emotionally empty. I had nothing left to give anyone.
For me, it took a warning from a doctor to wake me up to the fact that I had been neglecting myself to a point of extreme detriment. My body was shutting down, due to years of functioning in an extremely stressful situation without practicing any form of self-care. I would have to make drastic changes if I was to endure the situation any longer.
In my work with parents of challenging children (especially the moms), I find that most of us struggle to take adequate care of ourselves, even in “normal” situations. Add an abnormally stressful situation to the mix and we fall far short of where our self-care needs to be. To take care of others feels way more natural, especially for us natural caretakers; self-care…well, that just seems like a pipe dream or a luxury. We are the first people to jump in headfirst to help anyone in need…except when that person in need is us. Many of us run on fumes, going from one challenging situation to the next, putting out fires and barely surviving, let alone thriving. I’m learning that it doesn’t have to be that way, but most of us have been so used to putting other’s needs so far above our own that we don’t even know anymore how to take good care of ourselves.
I find that there are several challenges when it comes to self-care from what I’ve experienced in my own life and from what I observe in most of the parents I work with. We must overcome these obstacles if we are to parent these amazing children in a way they need to be parented in order to heal. Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at some of these obstacles and dealing with overcoming them. For now, we will look at several ways we view self-care that make it nearly impossible for us to thrive in stressful situations, such as parenting traumatized children.
1. We view self-care as unnecessary or a luxury
The first time I talk to a parent about self care, the most common response I get is a hearty laugh. Then, realizing that I’m dead serious, they look at me as if I’ve sprouted antennae, as if to say, “And exactly how do you expect me to do that??!” Even when I speak at conferences, the attendance at workshops on self-care ends up being sparse when compared to those regarding discipline or other topics that directly relate to the child. While I’d like to think that’s because the group of conference-goers are so experienced at self-care that they just don’t need one more workshop on the topic, I know that just isn’t the case. My work with moms has proved to me that we struggle even thinking about self-care, let alone actually implementing it into our daily routines. In reality, we become so engrossed in our quest to help our child heal that we, in fact, end up neglecting (and in many cases, abusing) ourselves in order to help them. In our minds, if we could just help our child heal, everything else will fall into place. When the healing process takes years to happen or doesn’t feel like it’s happening at all, we eventually realize the toll that putting off our own self-care has taken on our bodies, our relationships, our emotional/mental stability, and our lives wasn’t worth the results we felt we would achieve by our self-neglect.
I’ve learned the hard way that good self-care is NOT an option. That’s why the topic comes up for practically every session I do with parents. How are you taking care of yourself, your marriage, etc.? Stress takes a toll on us in every way possible. If you want to be around for a long time for your children, self-care is NOT a luxury. If you want your child to heal and have a productive life (or even make it into adulthood), self-care becomes absolutely essential. While I get the fact that self-care seems nearly impossible in these more challenging situations, we MUST find a way to make it happen. (In future articles we will be discussing practical ways to incorporate self-care into our lives when parenting challenging children. For now, I want you to understand how absolutely non-negotiable it is.) You MUST take good care of yourself – for the sake of you and your child’s future.Read part two of this article