Parents of Kids Who Are Struggling Need More than Parenting Advice

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Have you ever felt like you might crack if someone offers you one more piece of parenting advice? Sure, we all appreciate discovering new and better ways to support our kids. We all want to advocate more effectively, connect more deeply, see our kids learn to thrive…

But sometimes what we really need is just to be seen and supported -- for our own sakes. That’s why finding another parent on a similar path is so powerful. It’s that incredible sigh of relief. “You get it! I thought I was the only one…”

The emotional challenges of raising kids with challenges are profound. It’s a wild ride. It can be achingly hard. And it can be fiercely beautiful. Although the stress we bear is exceptionally high, it’s not often acknowledged. Doctors, therapists, and teachers who offer their observations and suggestions for supporting our kids rarely stop to say: “And how are you doing? Are you holding up okay?” We need more of that kind of care. It looks more like empathy than expectations.

Society validates caregiver stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout as it relates to all kinds of people in the helping fields. We know that firefighters, teachers, nurses, social workers and veterinarians are at risk. We know families caring for the very sick, fragile and elderly are at risk, too. But we don’t really hear about parents whose kids have extra / complex / special / complicated / unexpected / (you name it) needs. What’s up with that? It doesn’t make sense.

The truth is that parenting is hard. And it’s even harder when your child is struggling. Research shows that parents like us experience more illness, PTSD-like symptoms, disrupted sleep, depression and anxiety than “typical” parents. These problems are stunningly-not-so-surprisingly REAL.

When people say you need to take care of yourself, you wonder how on earth you could add that to your to-do list. All the trendy talk about self-care seems so out of touch and out of reach. Who has the time or money to do a Goop facial every night? Ha! And then there’s that guilty feeling in the shadows, saying: “You should be doing more for your child, not yourself… That’s so indulgent.” 

Most of us continue trying and doing until we have nothing left. And then we keep on going - although not exactly as our best selves. Many of us run into real health issues before we believe or notice we’ve been in survival-overdrive for too long. How can you be available for your kids when you’re emotionally and physically depleted?

Parent wellbeing is one of the most important predictors of child wellbeing. A substantial body of research shows that parents’ moods can affect the way they care for their children and how those children fare -- not that we needed research to figure this out.

What we can do is take teeny, tiny steps each day to restore ourselves. You don’t need more time or more money to be kinder to yourself in your head; to take a deep breath and pull your shoulders out of your ears; to scan your body to find where it’s holding tension and listen to what it’s trying to say; to take note of your child’s strengths and majestic sovereignty; to feel the ground beneath your feet. Every one of these micro actions will make a difference.

Give yourself permission to practice. It’s VITAL. Making tiny tweaks to your everyday habits will transform your life. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” We can’t control our kids, but we can control how we respond to the challenges. When you are able to face the wild ride with more clarity and calm, you’ll feel and function so much better. And your family will too.

>>> What are your thoughts? Can you relate?