Mindful Monday – December 11, 2017
In my practice, I see a lot of caregivers. There are many different types of caregivers, but I specifically see many parents who are caring for adolescent or adult children with disabilities and mental illnesses. I feel a deep respect these folks because although their struggles bear some similarities to my own work as a therapist, being a parent is much, much harder. Parenting is a full-time job in which you aren’t paid, you’re never off the clock, and your own happiness is intertwined with that of your child.
Based on my own experiences and those of my clients, I’ve created list of 5 tips for caregivers of adolescent and adult children.
- Work towards your own acceptance of the disability or illness. If you haven’t already, read up on your child’s diagnosis. Learn as much as you can about it. Try to figure out and accept the things that your child may never be able to do. For example, someone with autism may never ask you how your day was without prompting; it just may not occur to them. Someone with multiple sclerosis may never be able to control incontinence no matter which medications they are on or which services they receive.* If you are always hoping your child will be able to achieve things that they cannot, it will lead to a lot of disappointment, not to mention putting a lot of pressure on your child.
- Push for change. Sound contradictory to #1? It is. But there is only one way to find out what a person’s capabilities are: they have to try! After all, how do you know for sure that your child is incapable of driving if you haven’t given him or her a fair shot at it? If it’s been a few months or a few years and they’ve changed or progressed, have them try, try again. If your child is resistant to change, don’t give in to your own fear of what might go wrong if they try. You have to be their cheerleader. Believing in them will help them believe in themselves even when they don’t.
- Listen to your child. People with disabilities are people with preferences, opinions, tastes, and personality traits. If your child makes a choice you don’t agree with, it is easy to attribute that choice to their disability. And if that choice is attributable to their disability, it means that you can override it, right? Wrong. You must allow your child to make choices about their food, clothing, free time, job or volunteer position, relationships, and music. Every choice they make for themselves increases their quality of life. Feel free to express your opinions and concerns, but know that your control over their behavior is limited, particularly if they are an adult. If you aren’t sure whether or not to forbid a choice they’re making, ask yourself: will this choice hurt them? Will it hurt someone else? If what they’re doing isn’t harmful, let it be.
- Remember that you’ll never have it all figured out, and change is constant. True confidence requires humility. Know that what you know today may be different tomorrow, next week, or next year. Know that no person, even a licensed professional, knows it all. Try to accept and embrace the constant, evolving process of learning, knowing that you are always doing your best.
- TAKE. CARE. OF. YOURSELF. This is the most important tip of all. Make sure you are eating regular meals, exercising, and sleeping enough at night. If these basic needs aren’t being met, your patience and tolerance for stress will already be significantly lowered, which is not good for you or your child. Ideally, you should go to a support group or see an individual therapist. If possible, leave your child or children with family for an evening and go on a date with your partner, or get a massage. If that isn’t possible, find five minutes in your day to meditate, look out the window at the rain, or practice gratitude. You can probably think of a million excuses not to take care of yourself, but doing so is imperative to being an effective caregiver. If you are stressed and burnt out, you are not going to be as helpful to your child or anyone else. If nothing else, do self care with your child; it will probably be good for both of you! Color in a coloring book, go for a walk, listen to peaceful music. There is no good excuse to avoid self care.
Please comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, comments, and your own tips for caregivers. Have a mindful Monday!
*Of course, autism is a spectrum, and every person with multiple sclerosis is different. I’m just using these specific behaviors as examples for things that an individual person may never be able to change; someone else with these disorders may have a completely different set of capabilities.