A Resolution for Parents in the New Year
As a behavior analyst, I sometimes have to have difficult conversations with parents. Generally, this involves “I feel” or “I think” statements. During these conversations, parents have reported the following to me: guilt where they blame themselves for their children’s barriers, embarrassment because they think other people are judging them, anger because their child will never be able to live independently, and acceptance that their child is able to overcome the barrier of a developmental diagnosis. During my initial evaluations, almost every parent I meet reports on how tired they generally are, and how they avoid doing many things, like going out to dinner with their spouse, due to the risks of their child being harmed or harming another person. And… almost every parent I have worked with will go through several lengths to make sure their children are supported, safe, and happy. While it is fantastic that parents will do anything for their children, parents are not machines or superheroes. They need to be able to take care of themselves as well.
Yes, that means we will be discussing the controversial subjects of self-care! The first thing we need to do is actually define what these actually are. Practicing self-care generally means taking actions toward your own mental and physical health. Self-compassion is a part of self-care, where we are sympathetic towards ourselves rather than others. How many times have we forgotten to grab his favorite snack at the store so it’s ready when he gets home from school? Or, perhaps she wanted to get her face painted at the fair, but we have to use the money for groceries? Sometimes we make mistakes, and other times life presents us barriers. It’s important to remember that we are doing the best we can under the circumstances of our situation.
Many experts discussing self-care give the example a cup of water, where we give away our water and drain our cup every day. Practicing self-care helps us fill our cup again so we can give away more water. For most of us, our cup is probably empty which means that we can’t give any more. How many times have you had the thought, “I have nothing else to give?” Being a parent, although a wonderful and joyful experience, can be overwhelming and exhausting. Taking care of your children takes almost every ounce of effort and time. A parent hearing that they should also practice self-care will likely chuckle and ask, “Where is there time to take care of myself?”
As a behavior analyst, I would generally recommend starting out by assessing any barriers or goals for the parent. It is certainly important for a parent to think about what goals they might have for themselves. Let’s say Rodney’s parents go out to dinner and leave him with his babysitter. After they get home, they find out he bit his babysitter. They can see a welt on her arm, and she mentions he did it when she said he had to go to bed. The babysitter tells the parents everything is okay, and he did well overall that evening. They apologize to her and avoid going out again because they felt guilty that their child hurt someone. Because of this, they haven’t been out to dinner for 2 years. Does this example sound familiar? When we assess this situation from the parents’ eyes, we see that they are avoiding feeling guilty or worrying. However, they are also avoiding something that will give them a better quality of life. Can the parents go out again, accept that at some point in the evening they might experience guilt or worry, and still have a good time overall? Would any of us judge Rodney’s parents for going out and having dinner when they haven’t for 2 years? Would we agree that they might be exercising self-care?
Self-care can be a daily 30 second routine we do in the hallway just before waking up the kids, or it can be something we do in the moment when we are frustrated or feeling guilty. Remember to fill up your cup. And if not for yourself, know that your children need you to model fulfillment and self-care. Set up a resolution in 2023 to take thirty seconds of your day and try one of these methods based on the research of self-care (Fuller & Fitter, 2020; Szabo et al., 2020):
Meditation on the Soles of the Feet (SoF):
- Sit with a straight spine, without slouching or stretching your shoulders.
- Tilt your head slightly forward, with your chin tucked slightly toward your throat.
- Keep your eyes slightly open or close them lightly, rather than squinting.
- Touch the tip of your tongue to your upper palate, near the front of your teeth.
- Place your right hand over your left hand on your lap, thumbs touching each other, or your left hand flat on your left thigh and your right hand flat on your right thigh.
- Move your toes, feel your shoes covering your feet or the texture of your socks, and curve of your arch, with the heels of your feet against the back of your shoes.
- Breathe evenly by inhaling for three to four counts and exhaling for three to four counts.
- Focus your attention on the flow of your breath.
- When you realize that your mind has wandered away, gently refocus your attention on the flow of your breathing.
- Stop. When you notice that you are feeling stressed, anxious, worried, or overwhelmed and you need a moment, stop.
- Take a breath. If you find yourself getting lost in thoughts about the future, bring yourself back to the present moment (think about what you are doing at this exact moment). Take a breath, look around, and feel your feet on the ground.
- Observe what is happening within yourself. What are you feeling? What are you thinking? Acknowledge those feelings, take a deep breath, and come back to the present moment.
- Proceed with full awareness of yourself and your environment.
Pet your pet.
Try taking a few deep, slow breaths while petting the pet and really focus on the tactile experiences of the warmth and texture of the fur. Try connecting that experience to other more difficult aspects of your life (e.g., “If I can be this in the moment right now, maybe I can really be present while struggling with homeschooling my child.”).
It is easy to become overly focused on the past or the future. Bring your attention back to the present moment and stand in place.
- Describe 5 things you see. What color are they? Are the bright or dull? Are they big or little?
- Describe 4 things you hear. Are they loud or soft? Do they sound close by or far away?
- Describe 3 things you can touch. Where on your body can you feel them?
- Describe 2 things you can smell. Are they pleasant?
- Describe 1 thing you can taste. Is it bitter or sweet?
About Author Holly Downs
Holly is the Director of Ethical Compliance at [PBS Corp] (https://www.teampbs.com/). and an instructor at Capella University. She is a certified behavior analyst with over a decade of experience in various populations
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This post originally appeared on our November/December 2022 Magazine