15 Practical Self-Care Ideas for Parents

via Blog – Institute For Attachment and Child Development

A self-care list for the exhausted, frazzled, frustrated parents without a minute or ounce of energy to spare.

Buy little indulgences that help calm you. Nestle scented candles strategically throughout your home to provide scents for instant relaxation and calm. Pamper yourself with essential oils to make the most of your shower (perhaps one of the few moments of privacy you get).

Use simple tricks to feel better physically. Splurge on a really great refillable water bottle and stay hydrated to improve your overall energy and health. Stock up on grab-and-go healthy snacks (but don’t beat yourself up when you grab for a high-carb, high-satisfaction treat during a rough patch).

Look for support in the nooks and crannies of life (that can be so difficult to find from friends and family). Fill up your social media feeds with encouragement at your fingertips by following pages, people, and accounts that post motivational quotes and memes. Please, use the comments to share your favorites to follow.

Find creative ways to make up for enjoyable activities you don’t have time for anymore. Don’t miss your favorite shows. Consider DVR to enjoy them when you can sneak a few moments to yourself.

Seek the small feel-good moments in life. Open your curtains and let natural light nurture your mood and improve your concentration. Get your endorphins pumping by walking laps while your child is occupied in baseball, soccer, or football practice.

Make those few hours of sleep you get as rejuvenating as possible. Purchase a pillow that provides good support. Check out a Weighted Stress Blanket or neck wrap. (I sleep so much better with mine).

Don’t sacrifice your daily coffee even on the most chaotic of mornings. Use the app for your local coffee shop to order ahead and skip the line. (I use both Dunkin Donuts’ and Starbucks’ online apps to order ahead and earn rewards.)

Pamper yourself. Get a pedicure or manicure. Just a glimpse of my strawberry pink nails helps me feel good about myself even as I clutch the steering wheel, flip through paperwork, and wipe up messes. Drop in for a 15 minute walk-in chair massage at your local shopping mall for instant relief from tension headaches and tight muscles.

Escape into that guilty pleasure read with an audiobook. I’ve always got at least one audiobook* downloaded onto my phone for those endless hours of chauffeuring kids, sitting in waiting rooms, and idling in carpool.

Hire some help for everyday tasks. Look for a maid service to clean your bathrooms and kitchen every other week. This is a big bang for your buck in terms of getting a little relief. Don’t let lawn work be a time suck when there’s probably an eager teenager in your neighborhood looking for pocket cash.

Just say ‘no’ to extra activities and volunteer work you’re signing up for only out of a sense of obligation. It’s okay to prioritize yourself right now.

Ask for help that’s actually helpful when friends and family offer. Suggestions include, “Would you bring by a meal on Tuesday? Could you drop my daughter off at piano lessons this afternoon? When you swing by would you bring a gallon of milk?”

Surround yourself with people who support the incredibly challenging work you’re doing and limit time with naysayers. Don’t seek advice or support from people, even family members, who don’t ‘get’ the very real challenges you’re facing.

Join a support group. Online support groups can be a great way to feel less alone and get practical suggestions for busy parents. A favorite of mine is the private Facebook group The Underground World of RAD.

Be your own greatest fan. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Remind yourself of all the things you do well. Give yourself a generous ‘A’ for effort for those things you don’t do so well.

Photo by Pete Bellis on Unsplash

*  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Open letter to a therapist from a mom of a child with RAD

Dear Therapist,

I am desperate for your help. I apologize ahead of time if I seem angry and defensive. I’m just burnt out and afraid you won’t understand. My son is completely out of control and nothing works.

I’ve tried to get help before from therapists and teachers, even police officers, but no one understands. They all think I’m exaggerating, or maybe even lying. My own mother says, “He’s just a kid,” and can’t understand what I’m dealing with is way beyond normal, way beyond safe, and way beyond what I can handle. My son went through trauma at a young age and has been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder.

I’m not exaggerating when I say my son screams for hours. He’s torn his bedroom door off the hinges and put holes in his walls. His siblings are afraid of him. Sometimes I’m afraid he’ll burn down the house when I’m asleep.

When you meet my son, he’ll look like a very different child than he is with me. You’ll think I’m overreacting. I’m not. You see, my son is an expert at triangulating the adults around him. Due to his early trauma, he manages his surroundings and the people in them to feel safe. In doing so, he’s good at making everyone think I’m mean and crazy. Sometimes I start to believe it too.

I have a secret I should probably share with you—it’s true that I’m not perfect. I’m very aware of that fact. I’ve screamed at my son and lately I’m always angry and frustrated. I’m afraid to tell you this because you’ll think I’m a bad mom and blame me for everything. Most people blame me for my son’s problems. Yet, I’m the one person whose life has been turned inside out and upside down to try to help him.

[bctt tweet=”Even though I’m not a perfect mom, I’m still a good mom trying my best. ” username=”RaisingDevon”]

I’ve turned into an unhappy, negative, impatient person whom I don’t even recognize anymore. Sometimes I wonder if I have post-traumatic stress disorder, but feel stupid suggesting that dealing with a child could cause PTSD. It would be helpful for you to encourage me to get some therapy for myself.

Even though I’m not a perfect mom, I’m still a good mom trying my best. Before we get started, here’s what you need to know (because my son will tell you otherwise):

    • I feed my son three meals a day, plus snacks.
    • I don’t hurt my son.
    • I’m not the one who rips up his homework and throws it away.
    • He locks himself in the closet under the stairs. I don’t and wouldn’t ever do that to him.
  • Our house isn’t haunted, he’s not best friends with Justin Bieber, and he’s not going to live with his birth mom next week.

My son will tell you things in individual therapy that will take up all of our time to untangle.

In the meantime, we’ll be distracted from working on the really serious problems for which we need your help. This is why I’m going to insist on being present during all therapy sessions. Please understand it’s not because I have something to hide. I just want to keep things from getting worse than they already are.

Typical parenting strategies like sticker reward charts don’t work for my son. We’ve already tried all sorts of behavior modification strategies. I can’t ignore my son’s negative behavior either. I can’t just watch him hurt himself, his siblings, or destroy everything we own.

Please understand, our family is in crisis.

This is an emergency. We need help and we need it fast. That play therapy you do in the sand…I don’t know, maybe it works for some kids–but not for him. I’m not trying to be unreasonable; I just know what doesn’t work. If you don’t have experience working with trauma-exposed kids, please refer us to someone who does. I understand this is a very specific and serious issue that not all therapists have expertise in.

I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help my son heal and to fix our family. Please help us.

Sincerely,

Keri

Originally posted by the Institute for Attachment and Child Development here.

When a mom struggles to love her child

Originally published by the Institute for Child Development.

Carol was bitter and angry—on edge. Shortly after we met through a mutual friend, she told me about her three adopted sons. She adored her youngest son. The older two were regularly suspended from elementary school, lied incessantly, and threw screaming fits daily. They teased and bullied her 10-year-old daughter.

Her husband Ted listened to us and nodded patronizingly, as if Carol was exaggerating or over-sensitive. He sighed and said that he had told her how to fix the issues but she wouldn’t listen to him. Like my son, Carol’s boys were good in front of their dad. And, like my husband, Ted just didn’t get it.

I know Carol’s desperation well because I lived it myself for years. I told Carol and Ted about adopting siblings Devon and Kayla from foster care. Devon’s behaviors had grown so extreme and dangerous he was now living in a residential treatment facility. He was ten. “I’ll do whatever it takes to keep him there,” I told them. That’s how bad life had been with Devon at home.

I confessed that, although I feel a strong sense of responsibility for Devon, I don’t love him.

Carol burst into tears. I struggled to make out her words through her gasping and sobbing. She said that she didn’t love her two boys and she’d never been able to say it out loud. It was a dark secret she kept, afraid of what others would think.

I’d kept the very same secret as Carol for years, smothered beneath a plastered smile. Love came surely and steadily with Kayla. But it never did with Devon. I was sure something was wrong with me and was driven nearly mad in my quest to love him. I struggled to bond with this little boy who spit in my face, kicked and hit me, threw objects at me, destroyed my home, dismantled my marriage, and tormented my other children.

People understand why a woman wouldn’t love an abusive husband or partner. But this is a child.

We don’t like to admit that even a young child can perpetrate domestic violence. In fact, well-meaning family, friends, and professionals insist that all these children need is love from a “forever family.” With these platitudes condemning us, adoptive mothers struggle to find help.

Carol and I kept what was happening in our homes a secret. Here’s why—

  • We didn’t realize we were being abused. We refused to believe it’s happening because child on parent violence is taboo in our society.
  • We felt responsible. We believed our children would behave differently if only we could be better mothers.
  • We believed things can change. We kept trying to fix it, holding onto hope that we can keep our adoption dreams alive.
  • We feared how others would react. We worried about letting down family and friends who have supported our foster care or international orphan adoptions.

It took years to get help for myself and Devon. Eventually, I learned he had gone through early childhood trauma and he was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder (RAD). While not all children with RAD are violent, some can be.

In my own therapy, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the relentless stress of raising a child with RAD.

I came to understand that my emotions of anger, frustration, exhaustion, and bitterness were normal. My therapist helped me see that feeling love for a person abusing me–even a child–was not natural, normal, or healthy. It’s unfair to expect adoptive mothers to love children with these extreme behaviors and issues. Faking-it-until-you-make it in front of friends, family, and professionals is not the answer. “It’s unreasonable to force a parent to bond with a child whose behaviors have led to his or her PTSD,” said Institute for Attachment and Child Development Executive Director Forrest Lien. “The whole family needs healing in order to foster parent-child attachments.” These mothers need compassion, understanding, and support rather than shame and guilt.

[bctt tweet=”The whole family needs healing in order to foster parent-child attachments. These mothers need compassion, understanding, and support rather than shame and guilt.” username=”RaisingDevon”]

With the proper support and therapy there is hope for healing. There are treatments for kids with RAD that can help them learn to have healthy relationships. Their adoptive families can come to embrace and genuinely care for them. Keeping our uncomfortable, but true, feelings a secret makes it harder, if not impossible, to get the help we need.

For the sake of Carol, and countless other moms who have been shamed into the shadows, I choose to be a silence breaker. I’m not proud that I don’t love my son in that emotional way, but I’m no longer ashamed.

How to Discipline a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

It’s the million-dollar question. How do we manage the behavior of children with RAD?

Therapeutic approaches can seem scarily permissive. Meanwhile, traditional parenting approaches backfire spectacularly.

At the root, most behaviors children with RAD engage in are intended for self-preservation – by sabotaging relationships and controlling their environments. It’s unlikely, however, that they’re introspective enough to be consciously doing this. These underlying motivations are etched like scars on their psyche.

Most likely, the in-your-face motivations of these kids are far more concrete. For example, our kids may be arguing incessantly because:

  • it’s a habit like biting their nails or spinning a pencil
  • they want to test our boundaries to see how flexible the rules are
  • they don’t really care about anyone else’s feelings or needs
  • they love to push our buttons and get a reaction

When we’re in the trenches trying to manage these behaviors it’s sometimes difficult to embrace therapeutic parenting approaches because they seem to discount these in-your-face motivations entirely. Instead, they focus completely on the underlying, unconscious motivations.

[bctt tweet=”I’ve had therapists tell me that my son has no control over his behaviors – as if they’re as involuntary as a sneeze. I sure know that’s not the case.” username=”RaisingDevon”]

Yes, in the real-world of RAD parenting, we know the in-your-face motivations are every bit as real as the unconscious, underlying motivations. In fact, they’re what make the behaviors so painful to deal with emotionally. As a result, parents often focus on the in-your-face motivations and find themselves angry, frustrated, and easily triggered.

Let’s consider that in many children, both sets of motivations co-exist.

For example,

My child is arguing just because they enjoy pushing my buttons. It gives them a feeling of control which they unconsciously crave because they intrinsically believe the world is unsafe.

When we look at the motivations for the behavior more holistically like this we are able to have greater empathy, more patience, and find energy to invest in long-term approaches. Below are some resources I’ve found useful for specific strategies and approaches. Please be sure to comment and share what’s working for you.

Recommended Resources


The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting

Sara Naish’s book “The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting” it a balanced approach that’s both therapeutic and practical. She covers behaviors from Absconding to ZZZZ (sleep issues) and everything in between. For each behavior she helps us understand the broad range of reasons why a child might be doing it. She also provides strategies to prevent the behavior, to manage it in the moment, and to address it after the fact. These suggestions are refreshingly practical and obviously written by someone who has been in the trenches themselves. Read my full review or pick up a copy here: The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting.


How to Discipline a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder-2

How-to blog post

Check out this excellent post on how to discipline a child with RAD. This is one of the most complicated topics related to RAD. Most ‘discipline’ is ineffective and it can be quite risky.

How to Discipline a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder – Every Star Is Different

College $$$ for foster care alumni

Sadly, only 3% of foster care alumni will earn a bachelor’s degree compared to 60% of the general population.

Many states now offer full tuition exemption to state and community college for kids who spent anytime in foster care including adopted foster children.

Most states also offer Education and Training Vouchers (ETV). These are federal funds, up to $5,000 per year.

A few notes:

  • Most of these programs have upper age limits. For example, ETV is only available until age 23.
  • Many states offer reciprocity.
  • There are of course many deadlines and details. Please start working on this well ahead of when your child graduates high school

The good news is that every state offers something!

Click Next for the full state-by-state list.

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