Please Take Care of Yourselves
Here are the rough notes from the Taking Care of Ourselves presentation hosted by SEPTAR (The Special Ed PTA of Redwood City, www.septar.org) on Thursday, April 10. Although geared specifically towards parents of special needs children, much of the material is appropriate for any overwhelmed parent.
TAKING CARE OF OURSELVES
Ilana Douglas, Licensed MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist)
Taking care of our needs and getting our needs met: in order for that to happen, we have to be able to see ourselves. Which is a very hard thing to do. Not just to see ourselves, but to ask others to see ourselves, too. That is also really hard to do. It's hard to have others pay attention and ask others to stop long enough to really see us as we are.
First thing she'd like us to do is say our names and tell us what we would do if we could wave a magic wand.
(Many, many different wishes expressed)
The wish for our children to be well is something we carry with ourselves all the time. It takes a lot of energy to be the one responsible for our fragile, vulnerable children. We feel like we have to be perfect because there's so little room for error. What will happen to our children if something happens to us? We are very, very vulnerable. We have ownership of "the entire list" and never get to stop to realize it. We go go go and never have time to look at ourselves, because everything on our undoable list is so important. And then when we miss one thing there's judgment inside of us, and from others.
How do we give ourselves a break from this mountain of items we'll never accomplish when the world is pushing down on us? What do we do with our resentment and anger, our exhaustion? How do we address it? We are so overwhelmed by the needs of everyone around us that we never give ourselves a break.
We try to be our children's user interface, and keep everything going for them.
Along with the needs that drive you are the values that motivate you. Values guide your life. It's easier to take a stand for something greater than yourself (Go on a march, make a donation, take care of your child) than to take care of your own need.
So how do we internally advocate to ourselves? What value relates to that advocacy? We know a lot about advocacy by advocating for our children. So how do we apply value to advocating for ourselves?
If you think of any organism in nature, a bug a tree, you'll realize that everything needs to be taken care of. A bug needs food. A tree needs water. They do not exist independently.
What value do we use to transcend our to-do list and take care of ourselves? We feel guilty if we take care of ourselves.
How do we advocate for respect from other people? How do we make time for ourselves in the course of a day to take a deep breath? the biggest obstacle to taking time for ourselves is: ourselves. Because we don't have a value that says "you are really special because you are doing that." Which is different than self-worth.
Our society doesn't value our efforts to take time for ourselves. Even if those ten minutes, five minutes to breathe can make all the difference. If we need that, we don't have the fortitude, we're not strong enough. Our kids deserve all our time, not us. We are not as good parents if we take time for ourselves, and want to be paid for what we do. Our culture thinks that mothers are here on this earth to be used. (One parent calls us "the human napkins.") There is incredible pressure applied on mothers, let alone the mothers of special needs children, let alone single mothers.
The biggest obstacle that she sees is taking time for ourselves every day, which is really what we need -- just fifteen minutes. Stop. breathe. Do whatever you need. Find that peace inside.
Say that you have two young children with special needs and you need a break. You say: I need to figure out what to do for myself. So you go online for advice. The advice you read says: “Go to yoga. Go get your nails done. Listen to music. Light a candle.” But this doesn't work for you. So what do you do?
She wants to take us through a process. Relaxation techniques can take less than five minutes. [Here are some similar exercises to those she demonstrated:
What do we do if our children don't stop pestering us, ever? What can we do to get our kids to give us five minutes alone? Don't be afraid to bribe your kids for those five minutes! Don't be afraid to hide in the bathroom! It's very hard to fit this time in when we need it most.
It is important to develop friends who will support you in being able to identify and value this place of peace.
She would like to wrap up with something else:
"Yes and no are very important. But the most important phrase is ‘wait a minute.’ It's the spaces between the activities where life happens."
It is only from inner peace that we find the power to have a fulfilling life. This is separate and parallel to the grieving process.
What if our child doesn't have milestones? We have to divorce ourselves from the external judgment.
Remember that "What if" can be a way to escape from “What is.”
Ilana concluded with the following passage:
What You Should Know About My Child
(by Marie Bristol [possibly. My five-minute internet search to determine authorship was not fruitful])
Remember that he is, first of all, my child. Let me see him smiling in his sleep and let me think about how handsome he is and not about how delayed that smile was in coming.
Help me not lose sight of my son in the shadow of his limitations. I know that you care for my child and that you work hard with him. I need your expertise to help him become all that he is capable of being.
You need my help in understanding who he really is and in following through at home with things that are important.
Remember, though, that you send him home at night and have weekends off and paid vacations. Let me have the luxury of having a vacation, sometimes physically, sometimes just emotionally, for a day, a week, a month, without your judging me.
I will be there for him when you are long gone. I love my child with an intensity that you can only imagine.
If on a given day I am tired or cross with him, listen to me, lighten my burden, but do not judge me.
Celebrate with me, rejoice in who he is and who he will become but forgive me if from time to time I shed a tear for who he might have been.