You know those safety speeches flight attendants give before takeoff?
“In case of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks above your seat will deploy. Put your mask on first and then assist your child or other passengers”
The reason is simple: you can’t take care of your child – or anyone else – if you can’t breathe.
The message of this metaphor?
To be a good parent, you have to take care of yourself.
That means self-care is essential.
All too often, parents feel they need to sacrifice their own wants and needs for the sake of their child. Or at least they need to put their children first, before themselves.
In certain circumstances this is true. But usually the opposite is true: you need to take care of yourself first, so that you can be a calm, giving, pleasant, and helpful parent to your child.
“A parent will have a hard time supporting their child effectively if they themselves are not in a good place,” says Lisa Faguet, Clinical Program Director of Evolve Residential Treatment Center in Agoura Hills.
What does self-care actually mean?
While it can look different for every parent, Faguet shares three main ideas about how parents of adolescents in treatment can take care of themselves.
If a parent has a child in treatment for mental health/substance abuse issues, Faguet recommends the parent themselves receive individual therapy.
“Often when a child is in treatment, emotional issues can arise in the parent(s) around the same time. Or, the stress of managing the child can cause a parent’s previous mental health issues to flare up.”
Though many adults think they can just ignore it, unprocessed trauma or other deep emotional baggage makes it difficult for any person – adult or child – to live a healthy, functional life.
In addition to individual therapy, Faguet recommends that parents seek out a support system of other like-minded peers. The best way to do this is to regularly and consistently attend parent support groups like those sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or Al-Anon meetings. Some treatment centers provide complementary clinician-led parent support groups and multifamily groups for their parents and family members. During COVID-19, most treatment centers that offer these support groups now offer them in a virtual format, such as Zoom.
Support groups help parents feel less alone in their specific struggles with their child. It’s comforting to know that other families are in the same situation. Moreover, some parent support groups provide skills-training in the areas of communication and boundary-setting – two areas where parents can exercise self-care.
Hobbies and Interests
Sometimes, parents of teens with mental health or substance use issues forget that not everything should revolve around their child.
“It’s important to take the time to do things for yourself that simply bring you joy or relaxation,” Faguet says. “Set aside times during the week where put your energy into doing something for yourself.”
Hobbies like gardening, painting, running, hiking, music, and reading can help parents reduce stress. When it’s safe to do so (i.e. when the pandemic is over), getting a massage, going for a spa treatment, or taking a small vacation can parents maintain sanity in the midst of what can feel like chaos. Getting enough sleep is also imperative, as is spending quality time with friends and family members.
That includes spending time with spouses!
While some may think it’s neglectful to think of yourself when your child is in treatment, it’s actually the best thing you can do for them.
Because after you go for that run, or come back from that date night, or wake up after that midday nap, you’ll be in better position to provide the love, acceptance, and support your teen needs. If you think of it that way, your self-care is good parenting.
We’re not sure who needed to hear that – but we’re sure some of you did.
So take our advice, and take care of yourself.