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Beyond Self-Care

Tips for parents whose children are in recovery.

“Put the oxygen mask on first” is great first advice for parents of teenagers in need, but there are other levels of self-care that parents need to embrace.

Whether your child is recovering from addiction, illness, special circumstances resulting from mental or emotional health issues, or physical detriment, you need ongoing care as well–and not all self-care is the same.

In my time as a therapist and counselor, I’ve seen wonderful recovery in plenty of teens. Whether it has been addictions that seemed to consume the children or mental health issues that went undiagnosed and untreated, parents who are consumed with treating their children can break under the constant pressure of getting their lives to a new normal. Marriages and relationships can bend and break, personal and professional time can become consumed with distraction, and a parent’s own addiction or mental health disease can be triggered.

Parents who have mental health issues can suffer as well when caring for their children and each other, and many parents simply give up because the weight of a child’s health and recovery is too much to bear, especially when there are financial and civil penalties along the way.

For parents who are in the thick of it, there are endless lists of how to care for the self so that the “self” can care for the child, partner, or children in peril. This list is meant to go beyond conventional wisdom and provide a little bit of advice some of us haven’t heard before.

So what’s a caretaker–and the caretakers of caretakers–to do?

How can we provide real, long-lasting provision for those providing ongoing care?


Remember the nurses who made sure you got a good night’s sleep when your child was born?

Source: Unsplash

Some of you fought that, thinking you were Supermom or Superdad. The reality was that you were tired, physically weak, and that the professionals knew (and know) more than you–because it’s their job to. If you haven’t realized your limits yet, or haven’t admitted that you need all the help you can get, this is the place to start.

Even if you’ve been caring for a loved one for months, spread the caretaking as much as you can. Delegate needs and errands as much as possible and allow others to care for the child or adult in recovery as well. This way you and the patient have a network to depend on that isn’t just a tired, stressed out version of you and a post-recovery kid who needs a network to help them transition from sickness to health. You need that network too.

Decide Who the Hero Is, and Who is in the Supporting Cast

We constantly need to be seeking self-awareness and as much reality about the situation as possible. If a parent, guardian, or caretaker is going to be spending hours driving back and forth to a hospital or treatment center, updating relatives, going through procedures on how to deal with the child when they return home, and any other type of time-consuming learning or planning, they need to accept the “story” they are in.

Some parents are the “protagonists” in the story of their child’s treatment and recovery. Most parents view their child as the hero. Once a parent realizes that she is also a character in this real-life story, and that this story could end well (or not), and that this is really happening to the parents and their child, the next step (whatever that is) becomes a little easier.

Source: Unsplash

For parents of children with special needs or recurring mental health needs, this is your life and no one else’s. It sounds basic to say, but many people spend their whole lives avoiding the reality that they are in the story or play that they are actually in. Even if this is a chapter or act of the larger narrative, this is your life. This is your child. This is your reality. The sooner you embrace that and work towards a healthy ending, the sooner you will see each “page” of your journey with clear eyes.

There are also a a variety of wonderful parent and family support groups including Alateen/Al-Anon, NAMI, SAMHSA and more.

All Those Self-Care Tips Are All Correct!

The internet is full of wonderful tips about centering yourself, caring for your needs, finding alone time, and getting in touch with the things that will help you heal. And they’re all right. But most caretakers are afraid that somehow their self-care is really selfish indulgence and that they aren’t allowed to act or feel normal during a child’s treatment or stay in the hospital. Those superstitions are unfounded and unfair.

As long as you are “present” and mindful in the moments that you are caring for your loved one (whether in recovery or afterward), then you’re doing exactly what you need to do. Remember, as much as this isn’t about you, it really isn’t about you, necessarily. That means that if your child is in a 30-day rehab, there is no sense in you beating yourself up for those 30 days, feeling like you shouldn’t sleep, shower, or act like a normal human being.

If you have become part of the rehabilitation process for your child or loved one, then you are part of a process that will last a while--sometimes years. Allow yourself the time to adjust, process, and heal alongside your loved one because there will be pressing times and then plenty of downtime in between. There will also be some group and family therapy where you will be the focus of healing, forgiveness, and moving forward.

Source: unsplash

Whatever your current predicament is, be ready for it to become a part of your life and then, hopefully, you and your child can move onto better times and healing.

This may be the beginning of your odyssey or the homecoming chapter that turns into a sequel. Whatever the case, your child, partner, and network need you present, in their ranks, and by their side at all times–wherever you are.

Hopefully that place is where you and they are well-rested, mindful, and ready for the next adventure that will see you and your loved ones having healthier times together.


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