As parents, we need to ensure that we focus on our own emotional wellbeing, even as we help our children through their struggles. This is the case for every parent of course, but it is that much more difficult to get right if your child has an illness or special need. The emotional strain that the disability or disease places on the entire family—particularly the primary care-giver—means that caring for your own emotional wellbeing becomes an even greater priority.
I haven’t been my usual carefree self lately, and it actually took me a week or two to figure out why that is. As I was reflecting on the state of my emotions, the saying “you’re only as happy as your unhappiest child,” crept into my mind. That was it, I realised! For the first time in about two years, Ashlyn has again been struggling with school, friendships and anxiety, and I had taken that emotional turmoil into myself. It’s a natural thing to do as a mother. In fact, if we weren’t affected by our children’s emotions it could reflect a rather indifferent, uncaring attitude. Yet, to allow it to continue would not be healthy—for me, Ashlyn or the rest of my family.
It’s a slightly overused example, I know, but it’s the idea of putting the oxygen mask over your own face in an airplane, so that you’re in a fit state to put it on your child’s. If we are exhausted, anxious or an ‘emotional wreck’, we can’t help our child, and in fact aggravate his or her problems.
Here are a couple of insights from my own life experience:
Gain perspective on the issues
I think the psycho-jargon is ‘positive self talk’. It’s sitting yourself down (preferably with a good cup of coffee) and reminding yourself just how far your child has come, and—based on those past successes—that this next hurdle can also be overcome. It’s reminding yourself that there are other parents with similar—or even more difficult—situations who still manage to lead joy-filled lives. It’s turning your eyes upwards and remembering that God loves your child even more than you do, and that you can leave them safely in His hands!
Do things you love
For me that is going to a cinema and watching an ‘artsy’ movie, browsing in a bookshop or going to a beautiful spot in nature and letting the peace of it soak deep into my soul. For you it might be treating yourself to a pedicure, tackling a new craft project, or even just having a long, luxurious bath. Make time to do things as a couple or a family, too.
Put a support system in place
Speak to nurturing friends or find other parents who will understand how you feel. I remember connecting with a mom whose son had Asperger’s a few years ago. Our children were at the same school, but we had only been in touch via email. When we finally did meet and I shared a little of what I was struggling with, she didn’t even say anything. She just wrapped her arms around me and gave me a hug that said ‘I know just how you feel’. It was all I needed! If you are still struggling, find a supportive professional to guide and counsel you. You need not tackle this journey all alone.
“Fear not for tomorrow. God is already there.” Unknown
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at www.freedigitalphotos.net