Moms & Dads, take care of yourself
Parenting is hard. Parenting a neurodivergent child, or any child with special needs for that matter, is even harder; the hyperactivity and impulsivity of ADHD, the unpredictable outbursts, the intense meltdowns, the defiance, the disruptions, and the constant stress of it all can consume your energy and leave you feeling down, frustrated, angry, exhausted or even burnt out.
And if you’re stressed, it negatively affects your parenting. In a study titled Experience of stress in parents of children with ADHD: A qualitative study, researchers found that parenting stress impact children in various ways, including poor monitoring of children’s activities and whereabouts, increased use of corporal punishment and controlling rather than supportive parenting strategies. Not only was this associated with the worsening of a child’s ADHD symptoms and reduced response to intervention but it also reduced the quality of the parent-child relationship and decreased the parent’s psychological well-being.
While the stress of parenting will always be there, it’s imperative that you prioritise self-care – for your own well-being and the well-being of your family.
Here are essential self-care tips to help relieve stress:
Get support. In the aforementioned study, the parents identified their children’s behaviour and their parenting role as the primary source of their stress, so seek out support from professionals and those around you. Consider joining a support group or seeking professional help if you are feeling depressed or emotionally exhausted.
Make your life easier: order your groceries online, get a family member to pick up the kids or run errands, hire a cleaning person to clean the house regularly, or ask a friend to cook an extra meal that you can freeze for a busy weeknight, and accept the help that your circle offers.
Stay positive. You help your child the most with your love, positivity and common sense. It’s also important to keep perspective and remember that your child’s behaviour is related to a disorder and most of the time, it’s not intentional. To stay positive, the US-based, non-profit, Help Guide, suggests:
Thinking about or making a written list of everything that is positive, valuable, and unique about your child.
Trusting that your child can learn, change, mature, and succeed. (Reaffirm this daily to yourself.)
Protect your marriage/ spousal relationship. With the demands of raising your ADHD-diagnosed child (e.g. the therapy, schedules, medication) sometimes one parent (usually the mother) is responsible for managing all of that; this inequality in the division of labour, as well as other issues such as grieving (post-diagnosis), can cause all sorts of difficulties in the marriage. To maintain a strong relationship:
- Prioritise your relationship by making space for it every day. Even 20 minutes a day to connect and focus on each other will make a huge difference.
- Agree on the diagnosis and the course of treatment.
- Be united when it comes to discipline and limit-setting. It’s less stressful when both parents set clear expectations and rules, agree on what’s unacceptable behaviour, and have consistent consequences to deal with it.
- Take breaks away from your child. Get friends and family to babysit, while you take a well-deserved break to enjoy an activity that you love, or get some extra sleep.
- Take care of your own health. You can only care for your child when you’re healthy – mentally and physically: don’t miss doctors’ appointments; take supplements to promote well-being; nourish your body with fresh fruit, vegetables and lean meat; exercise with the family and get enough sleep. Lack of sleep alone affects your energy, mood, productivity and your ability to handle stress. Click here to read more on sleep clean strategies.
Do the things you enjoy on a regular basis. Make time for activities that bring you happiness, whether it’s reading, working in the garden, knitting, playing with the dogs, or watching sports. Find little ways to pamper yourself and make you feel special: dance to your favourite music, light candles and take a long bath, ask your spouse for a back rub, get a manicure or buy fresh flowers for the house. In essence, fill your cup!