Self-Care: Taking Care of You, Caring for Your Child
Self-Care? What's that? Self-care is a term I learned while in graduate school studying mental health counseling. Self-care is what you do to take care of yourself. Sounds simple, but it's not. So much of our focus as parents of children with mental illness is on our kids. The last thing we do is think of ourselves. How can we? Parents have kids and take care of them. But, what do you do when you're run down? When was the last time you slept or ate well? The last time you had ten minutes to sit and do nothing? If you can't think of the last time you practiced good self-care, you're way overdue.
As a therapist, much of my work is emotional and can be very draining. Add to that caring for Bob and meeting his needs with little support from Bob's father - Heiddi gets burnt out often. Working with parents has allowed me to teach them (and learn) how important self-care is for the family. Not only for a child with mental illness, but also for the parent caring for that child.
Even so, with all that I have to do, I sometimes forget to properly care for myself. I can't do my best work if I don't start with me. As of this writing, I'm on a stay-cation while Bob is at school. The need for self-care has led me to take a week off from the day job and from Bob so that I can rest, relax and reset my system. And you can do it, too.
Here are some of my tips on self-care and how you can be the best parent you can be (without guilt) while also caring for your child.
Get Enough Sleep
One of my biggest challenges is getting enough sleep at night. Ever since becoming a mom, I've had this unusual sleep issue - every little noise and light will keep me awake. Pre-baby I was a very heavy sleeper. After Bob, not so much.
According to the Center for Disease Control, adults need anywhere between 7 - 9 hours of sleep per night. If you're not getting this much sleep at night, you're not alone. Right now, I'm implementing a sleep schedule that includes shutting down all electronics by 9:30 right after Bob's bedtime. By getting myself into a routine, I find that I'm relaxed enough to fall asleep. Get your zzz's to meet your needs.
Not eating right increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, etc according to the Center for Disease Control. I know that drinking water regularly keeps me from getting headaches and backaches (kidney area) and limiting starches at lunch keeps me from getting sleepy around 3pm. I also try to limit my coffee intake to 2 cups a day. I'm not always successful, but I do feel better overall when I take care of me.
Take a Break
Taking a break from care-giving was very hard for me before formal visitation was implemented through court. I felt so guilty wanting time away from Bob. Time alone that I so desperately needed to just breathe.
A fellow single mom with three girls told me that the time away from Bob was well-deserved and mandatory. I explained how guilt-ridden I felt and she assured me that Bob needed the time alone with his father as much as I needed the break from Bob. Read: Bob and I were driving each other crazy. I was a few days away from my 33rd birthday and realized how fried I felt. My friend helped me see that to better care for Bob, I needed time away from him to re-energize. And it was okay. To be an effective care-giver to your child with mental illness, you need to take a break.
I know as a single working mom of a child with mental illness is hard, but it isn't impossible. With help from my support system, I have been doing it. But, I also know that without strengthening myself (as Bob's foundation), I do him a disservice. It is easier said than done, but you can take out the time for self-care. You deserve to take some time out for yourself and recharge your batteries. Hopefully the tips above can help you take care of the most important person on your team - YOU.
Zalamar, H. (2013, March 13). Self-Care: Taking Care of You, Caring for Your Child, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2013/03/self-caretaking-care-of-you-caringforyourchild