Yesterday, Integrity Singer wrote about how she came to the conclusion that her mentally ill daughter's life is not more important than her own. I thought it was a moving, well-written post, and I found myself wishing that I could come up with something even half as eloquent.
And then, I was reminded that I really ought to add to my series on self-care.
An important aspect of self-care, especially when dealing with seriously damaged, disabled, or traumatized kids, is that we realize that their lives are not more important than our own. We parents are important. Our needs must be met.
In fact, I would argue that our needs should be met first, if for no other reason so that we have the energy to do our best for our children.
I realize that my critics will argue with me and perhaps even call me selfish for advocating that parents should put themselves first, but I realize that when one lives in a world of scarce resources, it's the only healthy conclusion one can reach.
Children, whether disabled or not, rely on their parents for everything. It is the parents who provide the food the kids eat, the clothing they wear, and the housing, entertainment, and everything else the kids want or need. If a child's parents are sacrificing their basic needs in order to "save" their child, they are forgetting an important reality -- if a parent is too tired, depressed, overwhelmed, or hungry -- he or she cannot do a good job providing for that child, themselves, or the rest of the family.
In our family, I am the primary breadwinner. In order to better take care of my family, I owe it to them to take care of myself. So my wife and I try to spend time together, away from our child. We try to get adequate sleep, even if it means putting an early end to conversations that might be important to our daughter. (Why is it that she never wants to have these conversations at a convenient time, instead of wanting them five minutes before bedtime, when we are all exhausted?) I take time to exercise, even though it's not always fun or convenient. When we take our rare vacation days, we spend them doing the things that will give us adults the maximum rest and relaxation, even when those plans are in direct conflict with what our child wants. (She wishes for noisy and chaotic amusement parks, while we crave quiet, natural campgrounds.)
What our child wants is important, but I've come to realize that there is no way we can take care of her if we do not take care of our needs first. Although she's not as difficult as some kids that we've read about in the blogosphere, she is by no means an "easy" child to live with. Some days, she can be a joy to be around, while others are so bad there are simply no words to adequately describe them.
And in some ways, riding the roller coaster that goes up and down, sometimes stopping in Crazy Town and sometimes not, is more difficult than dealing with consistent behavior, even when it is all bad. Her behavior constantly reminds me of the line from the movie Forest Gump, "Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
In our case, we never know what version of Danielle we are going to see in any given moment. The word "unpredictable" doesn't adequately describe her behavior. Sometimes we brace for what we think will be an inevitable explosion, and she will respond favorably. Other times, she'll explode over nothing, when we least expect it.
We never know what we are going to get.
So when we ride the roller coaster, up and down, around and around, sometimes stopping in Crazy Town and sometimes not, we find ourselves exhausted. The phrase, "I am so tired," frequently escapes our lips, so we grab whatever crumbs of respite, relaxation and enjoyment we can, even if it means that our child doesn't get everything she wants.
One of the ways that we adults try to take care of ourselves is to spend time outdoors. Camping, especially at some of the more rustic local campgrounds, is one of our favorite activities. We've spent many a nice day, simply sitting outside under our sun shade, watching the day go by. Since we have parrots, and sunshine is imperative for their health, we try to take them outside nearly every day. I also make a point to run outdoors three times a week*, or find time to wash our cars, so that I can breathe in fresh air while also getting some badly-needed exercise.
Even though I'm fair-skinned and burn more easily than anyone else I've ever met, I've noticed that my mood really has come to depend on getting a certain amount of outside time. Being able to go outdoors, even if it's only to watch the cars buzzing down my street, is hugely important. Although our child often manages to bring her own portable rain cloud with her, even on the nicest days, we still make a point to spend some time in the sun.
I've noticed something important: the more time I spend doing the things that I enjoy, that fill my soul and meet my needs, the more able I am to effectively deal with my child's explosions, disrespect, and challenges. The more content I am with my life, irrespective of my child, the less her behaviors bother me.
Now that's not to say that her behaviors don't get under my skin. They absolutely do. It's just that if I'm more happy, well-rested and fed, then I have more emotional energy to allow her "let's take a trip to Crazy Town" behaviors roll off my back.
* After a long break from running because I was sick, I re-started Couch to 5K.
Today Is A Gift
5 days ago