Do you remember what it felt like when your mom or dad were healthy, happy and stress-free growing up?
Do you remember what it felt like when one or both were sick, out of sorts or emotionally unavailable?
Under which circumstance did you function best?
It‘s a well-known fact that kids do best when their parents pay attention to their own self-care. Children are like sponges, absorbing everything, including their parents’ moods and energy levels – so if you’re running low on fuel, you know it has to be affecting your child as well. Of course, every child is different and will respond differently but when mom or dad are feeling out of sorts, depressed, overworked, or out of sync little Johnny will sense it and Susie will pick up on it.
Because every person’s energy is contagious you really want to make sure that yours is worth sharing with those around you. If you give the best value you can offer you will get a great return on your investment. There are many things we want to protect our children from but positive energy is not something you want to withhold.
I’ve heard it said that you become like the people you spend your time with and who does your child spend more time with than you? I’m sure you’re also familiar with the saying, “Misery loves company.” Therefore, if you're wondering why your child is stressed, anxious or sad, you might want to look at your own physical and emotional state – there just might be a connection there.
If you want vibrant and positive energy to invade your home then you and the other adults in the household need to be the primary suppliers of it. If behaviors have been slowly eroding or stress levels have been climbing to dangerous levels in your home, know that you have the power to do something about it by taking the time to tend to your own self-care.
But who has time for self-care you ask, especially when you’re parenting a special needs child? I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that same response when I encourage parents, especially moms, to pay attention to their self-care. I even spoke these words myself years ago. “I don’t have enough time in the day.” . . . or something to that effect.
If you do not have a self-care routine in place or are having trouble establishing a mindset to create and maintain one, here are a few tips to keep in mind that will increase your chances of success.
Keep it simple. Self-care doesn’t have to be rocket science and it doesn’t have to be time consuming. Simple time efficient techniques for managing stress like – deep breathing, saying no, and maintaining boundaries - can be easy to implement. The most difficult part is developing the mindset to keep these easy steps at the forefront of your mind. If you truly believe that self-care is important, it will motivate you to stay focused and you’ll eventually reap the results.
Start small. If you’re starting from scratch, make it realistic and begin with finding five minutes to call your own. When your child is engaged in play or napping, take the timer and consciously focus five minutes on yourself and call it "me time". Take a virtual vacation in your mind, have a cup of tea, flip through a magazine, or do some yoga stretches. When your five minutes of respite is up, affirm to yourself out loud what a nice time it was. Once this becomes a successful habit you can gradually add more minutes to your "me time".
Identify barriers in advance. In order to increase your chances of success, it’s important to anticipate and address any barriers before you begin, so you can minimize or eliminate them. Sometimes you may block yourself, you may think of a history of failed attempts, of economic factors, time limiters, or other things. Take a moment to answer the question... "What would have to change in my life in order for this new self-care goal to become a habit?"
Lower your expectations. Let go of the notion that self-care means getting away from home and family for a period of time. Yes, that’s a nice goal to pursue but focusing on quick ways to refresh while in the midst of parenting can be just as effective. Eventually, when you consciously add the mini "me-times" together that you were able to indulge in during the course of a day, you will realize you did get time to refuel.
Anticipate the benefits. Take note of the many benefits that taking better care of yourself will have on you as well as the good that will spill over to others! Make a mental note or written list of the positive effects it will have on your family; how it will build your smile muscle and how contagious that will be, or how it will increase your capacity for patience, and any other benefits that come to mind. Keep this list in front of you! Stick it on the computer, the refrigerator or perhaps the bathroom mirror.
Know thyself. In choosing any self-care activity, you want be in touch with your greatest needs and inner desires. You want to select what will be the most helpful or meaningful to "you", not someone ‘else’. In order to identify 'your' needs, desires, values and priorities, you need to learn to trust your inner voice and listen to your wise self. Focus on what fuels you. How can you bring your passions to the forefront of your day, your week, your month? Is it finding time for your creative expression? Do you want to enhance your overall health and fitness? Do you want to feel more connected to your spiritual self?
Eliminate the word selfish from your vocabulary. Let's remember that pursuing self-care is not selfish. On an airplane they tell you to get the oxygen mask on yourself first and then assist children and elderly. You are no good to others if you are running out of breath! You are not your best self if you are stressed, overwhelmed, or sick and tired of being sick and tired. Taking care of you is not a selfish act. Selfish is on a continuum - the challenge is to stay in the middle, balanced between extreme selfishness and continuously sacrificing your needs. Litmus test: If it indirectly benefits your children/family somehow, it is not selfish!
As a mom or a dad of a child with autism, believing that taking care of yourself will also help your child is a worthwhile conviction to maintain. Creating opportunities to refresh and renew yourself is extremely important even if for only five minutes here and there throughout the day.
Don't ever run on empty! Refueling your tank on a regular basis always benefits your children!
Just imagine how much better you, and they, will feel when you establish a self-care habit that sticks. Focus on what you’ll be role-modeling. Take the time to visualize the waves of positive energy that will be emanating from you. Now that’s something you definitely want your children to catch.