SELF-CARE FOR PARENTS
Your child is in residential treatment because you are absolutely committed to getting her whatever she needs to heal and find her way to safety, health and happiness. Your decision to place her in residential treatment was difficult, but you know that it’s right. It’s also an opportunity for your own healing, a chance to put your own life back in order with the main source of domestic stress and conflict temporarily out of the home.
So, now that you’ve made this great decision to seek residential treatment for your child, why do you feel so terrible?
Most parents feel, at best, an ambivalent mixture of relief and grief, hope and anxiety, elation and depression. And that’s if you’re lucky. For many parents, once their child is in a residential treatment program they are mobbed by all the difficult feelings they’ve been keeping at bay in order to just cope. Anger, sadness, anxiety, disappointment and guilt are all part of living in a toxic family system. Once the apparent source of this toxicity is gone (and really, it’s not—family dysfunction is a systemic affair in which everyone participates) your guard finally comes down. The feelings come flooding in. To boot, you’re completely exhausted, which makes those feelings all the more potent.
The good news is that somewhere in this letting down of your guard, in this new flood of feelings, is your own greatest opportunity to help yourself, to help you family and to support the child you’ve placed in residential treatment. A good residential treatment program will provide you with support for your own healing during this time and will recommend that you seek your own therapeutic process with a local mental health provider. But while you’re in this very intense process of healing, you still need to work, parent and, in a word, survive! Following are some strategies that can help you make your way through this challenging time without being overwhelmed by its seeming enormity. These strategies will help you with two critical tasks: learning to take better care of yourself and embracing hope—i.e. knowing that somehow, things will get better.
During stress (and to prevent it in the first place), a healthy diet is critical. What is a healthy diet? Current and longstanding dietary research promotes a balanced consumption of whole-foods from all the food groups. A vitamin supplement, omega 3 supplement and vitamin D supplement are recommended by many nutritionists (check with your own health care provider before taking any new supplement) and may help with both physical health and mood regulation. An anti-inflammatory diet (which for many includes a reduction of gluten) is recommended by many experts to help your body deal with stress and recover more quickly. Remember that whatever affects your body affects your mind and vice versa—the body mind connection is powerful. Your child will likely be learning these same principles in residential treatment.
Hurrying creates its own kind of internal noise—noise you may have used to block out difficult emotions. But hurrying exacerbates stress and prevents us from breathing, listening and relaxing. So now’s the time to slow down. Walk or bicycle to work, sit down and eat meals with your family with the television turned off, and say thanks before eating—to the cook and/or as a prayer. Consciously choose to do things the slow way!
Before enrolling your child in residential treatment, your home was likely a noisy place. Whether that noise came from conflict or from avoidance in the form of television, frenetic activity, or even just music, it may have kept you from yourself. Now is a good time to cultivate a quieter inner life by cultivating a quieter environment. Yoga, meditation, and prayer are great ways to turn the volume down in your life and reduce stress. Turn off the TV and the radio, take extra long walks with the dog, practice quiet time with your spouse.
In the book Blue Zones, National Geographic researchers identified the health enhancing habits of communities that had greater than usual longevity and emotional health. One of these habits was involvement in a faith-based community. While your child is away in residential treatment, it’s a great opportunity to create new life habits. It may be time to re-engage or explore this aspect of your life.