I work with several parents who are ‘stuck’. They have more tasks building up then they have time to complete, and they may feel incompetent, hopeless, or just plain tired.
They have to: Coordinate current and new therapists, attend team meetings and assessments, carry-over strategies, find that right-fit school, juggle medical appointments … It is so much!! Even when they make it through today, there is always something new tomorrow. And they may believe that they have to push themselves to the breaking point in order to help their child.
But if they push themselves to the breaking point… who is left? How can they be a loving and mindful parent??
So what is this stressed-out parent supposed to do? Shouldn’t they put all of their mental resources into helping their child? Their child’s well-being should come before the well-being of the parent… right?
Actually, the opposite it true! Just like on an airplane, it is recommended that we put on our own ‘oxygen mask’ before helping our child.
Our ‘oxygen mask’ is the metaphorical time, resource, and support we need in order to BREATHE. Or at least not pull our hair out!! It means that we need to spend extra energy focusing on ourselves now as an investment for the future.
Does this mean that all a stressed-out-parent needs is a vacation away from the kids? Not exactly. While breaks are always a good thing (if you can swing it, do it!), putting on an ‘oxygen mask’ is a more mindful task.
There are two steps to this process:
- 1. Find your joy
Do you ever deep-clean your house? I like to take the time every few years to go through all of my household items and get rid of the items I don’t need and better organize the items I want to keep. Then, for the rest of the year, my possessions are more easily accessible, and I actually have MORE TIME.
If you watch Marie Kondo’s ‘Tidying Up’, you will see that she follows the simple process of deciding if each item brings her ‘joy’.
Does your child’s school and teachers bring you joy? This therapist? This strategy? Your time with your child? Your relationships?
Children with Autism may need help and practice… but they are still children. And children respond best to a lifestyle built on joy.
Joy does not mean that you or your child will always get what you want. Instead, joy means that you have ‘warm’ feelings and a sense of regulated control.
Do you experience joy when you and your child go out on walks? Wonderful, do that more often! Do you experience joy when your child sits with you and you play with her hair? Great! Do you feel joy with a specific therapist? Perfect! (*I don’t count ‘joy’ that comes from something addictive. This can include TV and sugar).
What should you do about the therapists, activities, and ‘shoulds’ in your life that don’t bring you joy? This is a difficult question and not as easy to control as the clothes in your closet. Are these tasks/people necessary? Do you have any power to change these ‘not so enjoyable’ aspects? Think about it, and you may surprise yourself with your own conclusions. If there is something about your life or current situation you absolutely cannot change… then you will find your own way to work through the stages towards acceptance.
- 2. Find your roadmap
As adults, we are able to envision multiple futures. I know that if I give ‘broccoli’ to a child, he will either: eat it, throw it on the ground, say ‘no’, make a new request… We want to not only predict what COULD happen but what is MOST LIKELY going to happen.
If a child ALWAYS throws the broccoli, guess what… he is probably going to throw the broccoli when I offer it. That’s ok. He is doing something he has always done; he is just being himself.
The next question would likely be, “what should I do about it?” I don’t know about you, but this question always inspires panic. I feel that I need to make a decision, and quick! Do I punish? Do I try again? Do I give up broccoli all together??
Deep breath; we don’t want to lose our ‘oxygen mask’! We want to stay calm and regulated.
Instead of becoming overwhelmed, I want to be reflective and pro-active. I might think to myself, “Hmm… that didn’t work. Actually, my child never wants to eat broccoli. I will need to think later about what to do about this. Everything I have been doing thus far obviously hasn’t made a difference.”
We can find a time (and I suggest another person) to create a ‘plan’ with. Once we have a plan we don’t have to pretend to be calm. We will have a roadmap of what to do with our children.
For example, if the child ALWAYS refuses to eat broccoli, I may take away the demand of eating all together. I may have my child help place the broccoli pieces into a bowl and help me ‘prep’ the food I will cook. Or I might try to use broccoli as a ‘paint-brush’ to draw a ‘smile’ face out of yogurt. I want to predict and create situations that might be successful!
And EVEN if these ideas don’t work with my child (because this is ALWAYS a possibility in our predictions) I am learning more about my child. I may need to adjust the activity, location, time of day, materials, or supports. I am developing something called the ‘growth-seeking’ mindset. There is no such thing as ‘failure’. I don’t need to feel insecure or overwhelmed. Instead, positive and negative experiences lead to constant learning.
We can create a plan that gives us a feeling of joy with our children. We want to help our children learn new concepts and grow… but not at the expense of losing our positivity and connection with our children.
We have to remember we cannot control our children; they are each a whole unique person. However, we CAN control our home, our roadmap, and our ‘oxygen mask’. We can move away from a crisis ‘survival mode’ and change our mindset.
We can look for the joy in our life with our very special child 🙂