Parents of Troubled Teens: Self-Care Over the Holidays

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, you’ve heard all about self-care. It’s all the rage. Self-care posts are big on social media. You can see your friends taking yoga retreats, asking for recommendations for mani-pedis, posting about how much they loved the massage they got, or trying to recruit you to join them on their 10-day Shaketastic! weight-loss/cleanse/new you challenge.

That’s all great – for them.

This holiday season, you have something different on your plate: a teenager with an emotional, behavioral, or alcohol/substance use disorder. They may be in residential treatment, or they may have already stepped down to a partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, or outpatient program. Whatever the case, your priority this holiday season is to support your teen as they manage their mental and emotional health.

We want to remind you to take care of you.

While we think getting massages and going on yoga, meditation, and mindfulness retreats sounds like pure magic – especially if they take place in a warm equatorial country with nice beaches – we also want to remind you that self-care does not have to be trendy or expensive.

You don’t have to jump on the mindfulness bandwagon.

You Define What Helps You

As the name implies, self-care is all about you. Self-proclaimed experts have lots of advice to offer about how self-care should work. But in the end, you’re the one who decides. If you enjoy it, if it relaxes you, and if it increases your inner sense of peace, satisfaction, and happiness – then that’s your self-care, full stop.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Before we offer our self-care suggestions, we want to address an issue common for parents of troubled teens: the fact you may feel guilty for taking some me time while your child faces difficult and often painful emotional or behavioral challenges. First of all, feeling guilty for wanting me time is one hundred percent normal. Second, moving past that guilt is important, because it allows you to fully enjoy the time you do end up taking for yourself. Third, here’s a thing to remember that may help you with that guilt: taking time for yourself does not mean you are a bad, selfish, or irresponsible parent.

It means you’re human.

Now, ready for our list?

Here goes.

Five Holiday Self-Care Tips for Parents of Troubled Teens

1. Plan It.

You’re probably looking at your calendar this week to decide how you’re going to fit everything in. As you do that, allocate time to do things for you, whatever that means in your life. Make them an immovable part of the schedule, as fixed as the calendar holidays themselves.

2. Delegate the Work.

If you’re the type of parent who does everything themselves – because that’s the only way to make sure things get done right – consider backing off that position this year. Enlist the help of your family in doing all the behind-the-scenes work that has to happen to make a family holiday work. Include the kids (troubled teen, too), include the spouse, include the people who come to visit. You do not have to do everything yourself: this year, let your family share the load.

3. Activity Routine.

Stick to it. It may be a workout regimen at the local gym or a weekly yoga class. Maybe it’s jogging, or taking nice long walks through your neighborhood. If you have a regular activity or exercise routine, maintain it during the holidays. It will keep you balanced and ready to be your best self. Which, in turn, will allow you to fully enjoy the holidays.

4. Buy Yourself Gifts.

We know – you’re already spending plenty of money on your kids and family this year. What we suggest is something more than the new iPhone and something short of a new car with a huge red bow like in the commercials. Books, clothes you’ve had your eye on, tickets to a play, a ballgame, the symphony, or an event where you can be the version of you that’s not preoccupied with your teenager every second of every minute of every day.

5. Be Present.

In the season of gift giving, the best present you can give your family and yourself is your full presence. You do the planning ahead of time, so when the day comes, get some perspective, sit back, and enjoy the moment. Easier said than done, we know, but take this example: if you cook the meal, try switching hats as soon as it’s served. Stop being the cook, waitstaff, and maître d. Devour that delicious holiday food and enjoy the great company and conversation: that’s the entire point.

The Simple Things Win

The goal of this article is to remind you to enjoy yourself during the holidays. We’re addressing parents of troubled teens because we know they – you – take on a lot all year long. And you may feel the success of the holiday rests squarely on your shoulders. We’re here to say that you deserve to take time for yourself. You may not be able to go on a kid-free tropical retreat, but you certainly can make room in the schedule to recharge, reset, and rediscover the joy the winter holidays bring.