Self-Care Tips for Parents of Complex Kids Part 2
As parent coaches, one of the things that come up over and over again is Self-Care tips for parents with complex kids. Parenting is HARD. It’s a lot of giving, and it can be hard to give continually without rest. This is why it’s so important for parents of complex kids to take the time for self-care and give back to themselves – and not feel guilty about doing so!
Here is a collection of Self-Care Tips for parents of complex kids from over the years that were too short to warrant their own articles but too important not to have on the site as a whole. Enjoy these tidbits!
Self-care for parents of complex kids is such a big topic we’ve split this collection of tips into two parts! Click here for part one!
Lose the Distractions
Turn Off the Noise
Quiet Space = Necessary
Parenting is a noisy business. Right? And sometimes, you have to turn it off!
I know you think I'm kidding, but I'm not. Quiet space is not just a luxury; it's a necessity – even for the most extroverted of parents. Whether it's in the shower or on a walk, it's essential to let your brain have some room to breathe.
Life as a parent is a noisy experience on many levels. One way to quiet the noise is to turn it off, literally. The other is to give yourself space to be, or do, where there is no one to talk with and nothing structured to think about. I have one friend who gladly does the dishes every night just so she can have some quiet time – for truly, who's going to bother her and run the risk of being drafted to join her!? It's a sneaky little trick, but it does the trick.
Quiet Your Mind
Spending 10-15 minutes each day in silence can boost mental, physical, and spiritual health. While reading quietly and praying are both valuable tools, quiet time involves simply sitting and focusing on nothing or on something small enough to capture our full attention, like the flame of a candle. The goal is to keep your brain relatively still. You can do this by focusing on your breath or by repeating a mantra. If you wander off to your shopping or to-do lists – and you will! – gently bring yourself back. They call meditation a “practice” because no one ever gets it perfected! It is in pursuit that we find the rewards.
Sit in a Dark Room
When your brain is moving a thousand miles an hour, and the logistics are demanding every moment of your attention, sometimes you need to take a break. A walk, exercise class, tennis match, even a pilates class would be nice.
But truthfully, when my brain is really humming, I may not be able to slow my mind enough for a 90-minute yoga class, even though I'd like to. Sometimes, it's not the right thing to re-center me.
Lately, I've discovered that losing myself in a 90-minute movie can really do the trick! There's story, action, adventure, and emotion – and none of it is about my life or my to-do list. It's quiet (sorta), and there are treats (sometimes), but most of all, it's pure escape. And occasionally, it's just what I need most to take care of myself.
So whether you're paying full fare at a theater, or streaming a video online, try combating your next dose of stress with a visit to a darkened room – not as a form of procrastination, but as a pure and much-needed break! Sometimes… that can be just what the doctor ordered.
Create Space for Quiet
“Silent retreats” seem to be all the rage. I've tried a little experiment of my own, and I highly recommend it. I've created “speech-free” zones for myself, and they are quite invigorating.
For the past 15 years, since my cell phone became a necessity, I've used it to stay connected. Every free minute you could find me calling my friend in Kansas or checking in with my parents.
But lately, I'm taking those times to be quiet, especially alone in the car (yes, it happens!). No radio, no phone call, just me and my thoughts. In fact, I've even planned an entire Saturday afternoon when no one else is around, and I can just do my stuff in peaceful, quiet.
Given the general volume and activity level in my home, it's a rare treat to find quiet. But when I create it for myself, it's an absolute pleasure.
Give Yourself the Silent Treatment with a “Noise Time Out”
I can't emphasize it enough. You have the right to remain silent. Use it!
I know you think I'm kidding, but I'm not.
Actually, you can give yourself the silent treatment with a "noise time out."
Quiet space – where it's not just you who remains silent, but the radio, the phone, the television, and the computer – is not just a luxury. It's a necessity, even for the most extroverted of parents. Turn off the noise and give your brain some room to breathe.
Why You Need a "Noise Time-Out"
Today I was driving – miraculously, alone in the car – and I turned off the radio. Silence. It's amazing how loud it can be. But then the noises in my head started competing for airtime. Tempted to turn on the radio several times, I stopped myself. The thoughts of people I wanted to contact came into my head, and I let them whirl around. I confess to making one call, fortunately, only to leave a message. But I returned to the relative quiet of my chatty brain.
Why is it so important to have quiet, alone time? American actress Helen Hayes once said, “We live in a very tense society. We are pulled apart…and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together. I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude.” She knew a little about being pulled in different directions: she is one of only 15 people to have won a Tony, an Oscar, a Grammy, and an Emmy. Perhaps because she took her own advice and treated herself to solitude when she needed to recharge!
Quiet allows us to:
- Refocus during busy times.
- Improve concentration and memory. Studies show a link between solitude and improved focus, and enhanced performance.
- Calm down when stress and chaos seem to reign over our lives.
- See the big picture and discover what's really important and what's just noise.
- Slow down!
Treating Yourself to Quiet
Life as a parent is a noisy experience on many levels. One way to quiet the noise is to just turn it off, literally. Like my quiet (mostly) car ride, take the opportunities when you can to enjoy solitude. You can't turn your thoughts off as easily as the radio, but that's okay. Just sit with them. Let them be.
Give yourself space where there is no one to talk with and nothing structured to think about. Some ways to do that (or be with that):
- Take a walk.
- When the kids are in bed, don't turn on the TV or check your email.
- Hop in the shower.
- Close your door and have a five-minute thought break. Two minutes if your kids are especially amped up! Any bit counts.
- Do some chores. Wait…what?
I have one friend who gladly does the dishes every night just so she can have some quiet time – for truly, who's going to bother her and run the risk of being drafted to join her!? It's a sneaky little trick, but it works.
So, what do you think will work for you, hmmm?
Article continues below...
Want to Go from Chaos to Calm?
Download a free tipsheet, "10 Tips for Calm & Confident Parenting." Use the coach-approach to change the tone in your home or classroom -- starting now!
Really Treat Yourself
Get A Massage – You’re Worth It
You don't have time. You don't have the money. You shouldn't splurge. Recognize this voice? It tries to convince you that a massage is a frivolous indulgence. And it usually wins. It has conquered me once or twice or a thousand times. But this year, I chose not to listen. I found an online deal that was too hard to pass up – and, for once, I didn't say no! I purchased 12 massages, one per month. Why? Because I deserve it.
A massage inspires those of us for whom “touch” is a primary language. It detoxifies, rejuvenates, and refreshes the body - the ultimate act of self-care. Try your own online deal, visit a day spa, spend an hour in the massage chair at the mall, or bribe your child for a few minutes of soft, loving pressure on your shoulders. Think about how you can incorporate massage into your life. You deserve it.
Girls’ Night In
You know what's even more rejuvenating than Girls' Night Out? A quality “Girls' Night In!” There is something restorative about losing yourself in conversation, food, and wine. Perhaps there was a time when a late night of dancing was actually energizing, despite the inevitable sleep deprivation that would follow. Now – well, not so much.
As Moms, managing our energy is critical. We need to make sure that the things we do to restore ourselves are actually fueling us, not depleting us. A quiet evening of connection and conversation (without loud music and the pressure of appearances), can do wonders to restore patience and calm and to remind you that you are not alone.
Take Care of You to Take Care of Them
Are You Important? Make That Appointment Today.
If you're anything like me – and most of the other parents I know with complex lives – you tend to procrastinate on those critical appointments for yourself that you just “don't have time for.” Except that “no time” is an excuse. It isn't really true. You're a parent – you can always make the time for what's important.
That is if you are important enough. The good news is that you are to your kid(s)! So make the time for your kids and take care of yourself! Get on the phone or online, and schedule that appointment – the dentist, the GP, the gynecologist, or urologist – whatever you know you've been putting off. You just found the time – after all, it's important to your kid(s)!
Get Me Out of Here!
Being the mom of an ADHD kid is hard work. It can be overwhelming, frustrating, and confusing – lots of emotions come up. Sometimes I just feel like running away. My self-care tip to you as a parent of complex kids is to do it! I don't mean to pack your bags and leave your kids behind, although there may be times you dream of that. I'm suggesting that you find something to help you escape from the pressures, even for a few minutes or hours. Here are a few ideas:
- Find a novel you can pour yourself into
- Go to the spa and get a massage or pedicure
- People watch at a coffee shop with your favorite warm beverage
- Go for a walk
The point is to do what you can to completely disconnect. Don't spend your time thinking about your family or trying to figure out how to approach the meeting with your child's teacher on Thursday. Simply escape…
Keep on Smiling
Okay, so some days, you may feel more like choking someone than smiling. You are a parent, after all, and that is perfectly normal!
The trick is to take care of yourself when you are feeling that way, which can help you shift out of a bad mood as quickly as possible. This is important not only to prevent yourself from doing something you'll regret later but also because it just feels rotten to be so frustrated!
So, cliché as it may sound (remember, clichés get that way because they are so true), turn your frown upside down. Seriously, go off by yourself, take a deep breath, and smile.
Something happens when we smile – serotonin is released, and our brain starts getting signals that there is something to be happy about. Sure, you might be gritting your teeth at first, but then take another breath and release your jaw muscles. Maybe even let out a few audible sighs. Let the smile guide your energy to a better place. Who knows – maybe you'll even discover something to smile about!
Show Yourself Some Heart
As parents, when we nurture our kids, we give them our hearts. We love and cherish, we support and encourage, and we understand and listen. When we pay attention, we really know how to love.
I've been doing a lot to nourish my oldest child lately. I've been very busy helping them fly out of the nest and into the next phase of their life. It's been beautiful, honestly – a true labor of love.
Imagine if we did that for ourselves. What would it look like for you to treat yourself with the love and caring that you feel for your kids? What would it look like to practice these self-care tips for parents of complex kids? I encourage you to think about it, come up with one or two things that you know you'd like, and practice on yourself. It might be with words or with actions – whatever works for you is fine. The most important thing is just to start treating yourself with a touch more kindness and heart!
Take a Fresh Air Break
You’re distracted, fatigued, and crabby. Frankly, you need a break from parenting.
It could be that this pandemic seems to be outlasting the Energizer Bunny.
It could be that all this togetherness is starting to wear thin, and you just want to feel ‘normal’ again (whatever that means!).
It could be that the thought of the new school year is enough to make you break out in hives!
It could be that you are deficient in Vitamin G. This is what scientists are beginning to call time outside or in green space. I might add my own addition: G can also stand for time spent with your feet on the ground.
Get Out There!
You know that Vitamin G works wonders for your complex kids. It breaks bad mood cycles, builds strength and resilience, and reconnects kids to the simple pleasures of childhood. Down in the southern U.S., going barefoot is a fundamental rite of passage.
But what about Vitamin G for you? How are you doing when it comes to getting fresh air? When was the last time you walked outside and let your feet (yes, flesh) touch the ground?
Fresh air and connection to the earth are good for everything from digestion and blood pressure to immune systems and mood. It grounds us and helps us remember that we’re an integral part of this planet. Even better, it’s as transformative when the flowers are in full bloom as it is when the snow is swirling (although you might want to avoid the barefoot part in wintertime).
We can break difficult cycles, interrupt upsets, and redirect meltdowns (for our kids and ourselves!) with a breath of fresh air and a simple walk on fresh grass. It doesn’t take a lot of time, honestly. It just takes a moment of intention, an open door, and a deep breath. Or two. Three, if you’re really committed! (And remember – slow down the exhale to gain the calming benefit of conscious breathing.)
Bring Fresh Air to Your Life
Throughout your day, open a door, crack a window, or better yet, go outside and take a deep breath, walk on the grass and wiggle your toes, and take a moment to reconnect with the natural world and take a break from parenting. You’ll be amazed at how restorative it is and how you’ll be able to handle…well, whatever surprise comes next!
Take a Minute to Increase Focus & Manage Emotions
Got a minute? In that time, you can increase focus and help manage emotions. Really. I read about it in a business article, of all places. In “The Basic Minute,” Martin Boroson invited managers to try a quick and simple meditation practice. Even a minute of meditation can help parents the same way it helps managers. Here's the process:
- Find a quiet place.
- Sit down with your legs in a relaxed position and your body sitting “up” (lying down isn't recommended – you might fall asleep!)
- Set an alarm for exactly one minute.
- Place your hands in a relaxed position.
- Close your eyes.
- Focus on your breathing.
- When the alarm sounds, stop.
Just focusing on your breathing for one minute will cause your heart rate to slow and your breathing to regulate – both great things for your body. At first, if you get distracted, it can help to count your breaths. Also, be sure to breathe “normally.” Don't try to control your breath.
You can do this several times a day when you find yourself losing your cool or needing to recharge. I challenge you to try it once a day for a week and see what you notice. Leave me a note and let me know how it goes!
To read the full article: Boroson, Martin. “Meditation for Managers.”, Spirituality and Health September-October, 2011: 53- 57.
Time Away from Kids
This may sound like an obvious self-care tip for parents of complex kids, but it's critically important. Schedule some time for yourself without your kids.
I know no one else can handle them quite as you do. No one else understands, knows what they need, etc. That may be true. Certainly, there is no one more critical to them than their parents. BUT…that does not mean that they need to be with you all the time. It's better for them to get a break (and maybe learn to appreciate you a bit more).
More to the point, you need to recharge your batteries. It's important to act on this.
- If your challenge is timing, then look at your calendar today and commit to schedule some time.
- If your challenge is concern that there is no one else, then make that a priority and start looking for someone you can trust, if only for an hour or so.
A babysitter or backup does not need to be able to handle things as well as you do. Basic safety is enough to give you a break and let you re-group. Challenge yourself – take time for yourself. Everyone will benefit, I assure you!
Take Time to Slow Down
When does life slow down!? If you're like me, your days are getting busier and busier. We juggle work, kids, homes, obligations, and responsibilities. It feels like we need a 40-hour day to get everything done – and get a good night's sleep while we're at it! Some weeks can be crazy for me. One week, in particular, that was especially busy was when I volunteered at a day camp and tried to keep up with my work and family in the evenings. I could feel my battery draining!
When life kicks into high gear, pay close attention to how you feel, both physically and mentally. Know when you're reaching that point where you're about to boil over (are you ultra-sensitive? Quick to anger? Irritable? Run down?) and take some action to let off steam.
Take a walk; lock yourself in the bathroom for a soak; treat yourself to your favorite coffee shop; go to a Zumba class – it's hard to be stressed when you're having fun! Whatever you do, take some time for yourself and recharge. I'm going to lead by example by heading out to the deck for another cup of coffee with Mother Nature.
Self-Care When Dealing with Others
Is it Better to be Right or Happy?
No One Wins
How often do you find yourself going toe to toe over a particular issue with your kids or even another adult? Sometimes it's important to defend your point of view, but constant arguing can damage relationships. In these situations, no one wins. So is it better to be right or happy?
Much of what we argue about with others is a matter of opinion or perspective, and there is no way to prove that we are “right.” Once our ego gets attached to a point of view, however, it's difficult to realize when a stalemate has been reached.
Pick Your Battles
One of the cool things about being human is that we get to have opinions. But in order to honor our own right to have them, we have to also honor the rights of others to differ from us. It is important to pick our battles, and that means it's also important to let go of the need to prove our point.
So, next time you find yourself in one of these situations, hoping to convince someone that you are right, you might want to ask yourself, “Would I rather be right or let it go and be happy?”
Sleep When the Baby Sleeps
There is a lesson we are taught as new parents: take a nap whenever the baby sleeps. It's hard to do. There are so many things to do around the house. Infant-free time seems like the perfect opportunity to clean, catch up on correspondence, work out - whatever else feels pressing. In the long run, it typically never pays off. We end up like walking zombies who aren't getting enough rest.
The lesson is to follow your child's lead.
This concept can be applied as a self-care tip to many areas of being a parent to complex kids. In this case, I'm talking about taking their lead to stay connected to them. When our kids start rejecting us socially (which is completely normal, of course), it's easy to just start doing our own thing and letting them do theirs. When their preference is to spend their free time away from us, it's tempting to take advantage of the time for ourselves.
But sometimes, you might want to remember the caution to Sleep when the Baby Sleeps and apply it differently to your older child.
The next time you are tempted to do your own thing, consider taking their lead and find ways to connect. Maybe it's sitting together quietly, reading, watching their favorite show on TV, or playing a game together. Our kids often struggle socially, and interacting with us is a positive way to help them improve their interactive skills. As a bonus, it can actually be fun. Besides, before you know it, they will grow up and move on, and you'll have plenty of time to do what you want.
Stop Your Kvetching
(Kvetch: verb, Yiddish, to complain, especially chronically.)
Some people are conditioned for complaining – they are wired that way. When you ask a child how her day went, and she starts off by telling you what went wrong on the playground, that's a good indication that she might be a complainer. Much of the time, our kids get it from us.
I prefer to see this knee-jerk negativism as a consequence of having an analytical mind. That way, it can logically be re-directed. Why should it matter? Because negative thoughts bring us down, and positive thoughts lift us up. Yes, it's really that simple.
So how can you stop your kvetching?
Notice: do you tend to complain, criticize or gossip?
If so: When you start to complain, hear yourself out. For starters, just let it happen.
Then: immediately, think about something good that you can mention – sorta like a counter-balance.
Next: return to the complaint. Is there anything else about that situation that you can find that might be positive?
Over time, you may find that you'll naturally start re-directing yourself to look for the positive. Until then, keep using your logical skills to consciously direct your thinking.
Know Your Limits
This week was a crazy one for me – I volunteered at girl scout day camp and still tried to keep up with my work and family in the evenings. When things get busier, the most important thing can be to pay close attention to how you feel, both physically and mentally. Know when you are reaching that point where you're about to boil over and take some action to let off the steam. Take some time for yourself, and do a little something to take care of yourself.
Phone a Friend
Sometimes I feel like there is a constant conversation going on in my head – things to remember, things I regret, things I ruminate over. I suppose it's a side-effect of the overwhelm and frustration I feel as a parent of kids with ADD/ADHD. One coach I know calls it “Stinkin Thinkin,” and it causes stress for many of us. We work and re-work a thought in our head until it's well-worn and unrecognizable.
One of the best salves for getting ruminations out of your head is to talk about them. Write about them. Commiserate about them. You can write all your obsessive thoughts on a piece of paper and throw them away, or set a timer and have a “b*$#&^ session” with a friend. No need to solve everything. Just clear the stressful energy of worry and self-doubt.
Here's the bonus! Talking actually releases serotonin into the body, which can counteract the buildup of stress hormones and help you calm down. So the next time you're feeling overwhelmed, phone a friend, and ask for permission to vent! Sometimes, it's just the therapy you need the most.
Teach Your Child to Wait On You
I'm a firm believer that you should teach your children, from a very early age, to clear your plate (actually, all adult plates) from the dinner table.*
I'm not talking about child labor or power trips. On the surface, this may sound more like a parenting tip from the 1800s than a self-care tip for parents of complex kids but go with me for a minute.
Why teach your kids to wait on you? First, it's good for them. It shows respect. It's a simple, dedicated job. It encourages them to be helpful.
Even if I get up right after, there's something wonderful about them taking the lead by clearing my plate.
There are also downstream effects. It teaches them manners and sets them up to be helpful when they are in other people's homes. It sends the message that it is their responsibility to (sometimes) take care of you. In some way, they begin to realize that they are showing gratitude.
But the best reason for doing it is it just feels so darn fabulous every time they do it! I can't help but smile. I always say thank you, even though I gave them the job. Over time, as it becomes something they do out of habit, they get a kick out of it, too. It's a win-win for everyone.
So the next time you start clearing the dinner table – stop! Ask for help, and eventually set the expectation that it's the kids' job to clear away the dishes from the table – all of the dishes. It's the best of both worlds: a teachable moment that feels fabulous, all at the same time!
* This presumes that you are having a family dinner, of course. Whether we are doing it regularly or not, the advantages have been demonstrated, so I won't go further.
Give Yourself Some Grace
We get emails from parents every day, and sometimes they simply break my heart. There are so many parents who are giving all they can for their families and relationships, and it can feel like their families are really broken. Sometimes, you are scorned, criticized, or even abused for what you are doing for your kids, so much that you end up feeling defeated and completely unable to move forward.
Here's a response I shared recently with a mom in our tribe who was in a really rough situation. It's a good reminder of what to consider when we think there isn't anything we CAN do!
“Dear Mom -
My heart is with you. It's so hard to feel like you work like crazy with no real evidence or appreciation.
What I know for sure is:
1) God knows and appreciates all you do with such a willing heart.
2) Remembering that and having an appreciation for yourself CAN make things better.
My hope is that you will find the little things to be grateful for and celebrate as much as you can. Keep yourself safe, and let other things and concerns go as gently as possible so-- that they don't weigh so heavy on your heart. My hope is also that you find many peaceful moments to come and have a blessed year. You are such a gift to the world and your family. Rest assured of that!
With Love and Gratitude,
Self-Care Tips for Parents of Complex Kids
I hope these tips have encouraged you to remember to take care of yourself. It's important not just for you, but for your whole family.
Don't forget to check out part one for more self-care tips for parents of complex kids!