Every teacher and care-giver my son encountered described him this way. Each conference, parent-night, or office visit began with me explaining his wit and ended with unsolicited advice from them on how to make him more compliant.
Many acted as if they offered me new information. As if I hadn’t spent any time with this child.
This child. This strong-willed, stubborn little guy is my moon and stars. The love of my life.
Each of us, if we’re lucky, has a moment when our hearts crack open, pours out in front of our eyes to become our own living, breathing, light. To be told that my light had faulty wiring split me down the middle. The ache I felt hearing these words can’t be described.
Being a new parent, I started to doubt my abilities.
I wondered if trusting myself and my connection with my son was enough to raise a solid young man. I worried constantly. I braced myself each time I walked through the doors to pick him up from school. Seeing his teachers waiting by the front desk filled me with dread.
Overwhelmed and worn thin, a tiny voice managed to needle its way into my mind. Taunting me day after day.
“You’re a terrible mother.”
“Why can’t you control your child?”
“You’re failing him.”
Day after day, fake smile pasted in place, I’d sign him out and quietly listen to how he did this or did that and how he wouldn’t be able to have recess the next day or the following week.
I sought outside help. I did everything they requested and more. Every test. Every therapy. Every program. I bought every book. The first being Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child. I followed that with books on sleeping, cutting screen time, physical therapy, dealing with strong emotions, positive reinforcement, heavy work, journaling, and medication.
As a result, I became a highly trained, effective advocate for my son. I even ran support groups for the Twice Exceptional Child. He struggled, but he also thrived.
This article, however, isn’t about what I did for him. It’s about what I didn’t do for me.
You see, that voice was still there. Still telling me that I was a horrible mother. That I had somehow ruined him.
I didn’t realize all of my focus on him lead to neglecting myself. As I worked to become an advocate for him, I never considered that each child needs their parent to advocate for themselves in the same way.
So, what did I do?
First, I cried. A lot. Doing something for me was selfish in my book. Someone had to tell me it was okay and important to care for myself.
So, I am telling you that now. IT IS OKAY FOR YOU TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!!
Second, I needed to be realistic about how I was going to proceed. I had to think about how I would take care of myself. I needed to set goals and figure out what success looked like, just like I did for my child.
Figuring out what success would look like was the easiest for me. It looked like a calmer, happier, more patient me. I thought if I could relax a bit, I’d be calmer, more patient, and my relationship with my son would improve. Figuring out how to relax was the hard part. And no, telling myself to relax didn’t do the trick.
Once I spent some time contemplating how I could get some alone time, I remembered that I used to crotchet afghans with my great-grandmother when I was a child. We spent hours together looping yarn creating granny squares and stitching them into a solid piece. Pride filled my ten-year-old body head to toe when we completed our first one. I still have it.
Right then, I knew what I wanted to do. I’d tap into those memories and make an afghan. Plan in hand, I bought yarn and hooks.
And there they sat, day after day, untouched.
The sack of yarn in the corner of my living room taunted me. Every time I saw it, I saw failure. That little needling voice returned to tell me yet again, I failed. I couldn’t even relax.
I pushed that little needling voice aside.
My son had hives. How could I be expected to crotchet when he itched and cried and needed me?
I was slowly learning, and accepting, that life has setbacks and that it’s full of surprises. That’s what makes it fun. As fun as hives can be. Once my son’s swelling went down and his itching dissipated, I finally sat down with my yarn. After weeks of nightly work, I finished my first solo afghan.
When my son came out of his room to see my accomplishment he said, “All right, Mom. Yeah!” He gave me a thumbs up. He was proud of me, too!
His was the highest praise I could ever receive. He loved it and used it night after night.
And that one small project helped me free my inner Zen Master. Here are the 4 lessons I learned along the way –
Zen Master Lesson 1: Set a Goal
Decide what success is for you and then set a realistic goal. This goal can be anything that focuses on caring for you. Think of something you enjoy doing like talking a walk or riding a bike, reading a book (for fun), talking to a friend, taking a bath, meditating, joining a class that runs one night (think paint nights).
I suggest avoiding watching a TV show. Screens have a way of stealing our time and when it’s gone, we don’t feel any better or more relaxed. You want to do something that keeps you engaged. Once you’ve thought about it, pick one that you can realistically incorporate into your life this week.
Zen Master Lesson 2: Take Some Time Outs for You
Believe it or not, we need timeouts. We need to sit and read. We need baths. We need water and healthy meals. We need exercise. We need to do everything we can to be our best selves so we can be the best parent to our treasured child.
Now, take a look at your schedule. Really map it out. See when you have five or ten minutes here or twenty minutes there. Notice when you have a couple hours free in an evening and schedule that time for you.
Tell the people in your life about your appointment. Put in in your calendar. Don’t cancel on yourself. You matter and your time matters. Guard it.
Zen Master Lesson 3: Learn to Forgive Yourself
Smiling, I learned my next lesson. I needed to forgive myself when I didn’t meet my goals. Being hard on yourself as a parent is almost second nature. It took effort and a lot of trial and error to get to the point where I could forgive myself.
One thing I did to facilitate forgiveness and love for myself was to put up little notes on my bathroom mirror to remind myself that I was human. One of my favorite notes comes from a card deck I purchased, it says, “Deep within me is a solid core of calm and peace.” Reading it every morning, started my day in positive state of mind. I was focused and it reminded me to breathe.
Remember, there will be setbacks and failures. That’s okay. Be ready for that to happen. Be prepared to forgive yourself if life happens – because it will.
Often, when we are ready to try something new often we jump in with both feet. When we mess up, we berate ourselves, and throw in towel. What were we even thinking? Trying to do that in the first place?
When these thoughts pop into your head, stop them immediately. How do you stop them? You say STOP out loud. Doesn’t matter where you are or if you look like a crazy person. Most people will think you’re on the phone anyway so just do it. You’ll be glad you did. Once you stop yourself, smile. Celebrate all your wins.
Zen Master Lesson 4: Practice, Practice, Practice
Over and over, I repeated this process. The more practice I had, the better I became. The nagging voice that told me relaxing was selfish shut off. I felt better. Soon, I was able to branch out and explore other hobbies and pastimes. I smiled more often. My interactions were less strained. I encouraged myself and my son. I felt the success of following through, having a better relationship, allowing for setbacks, and forgiveness.
In time, I became my own Zen master. Being calm and kind to myself, made me calm and kind to those around me. Namely my son. It didn’t happen overnight. Nothing ever does. But the decision? The decision can happen right now.
2 Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Today as we consider our paths toward becoming our own Zen Master, try to do the following:
Set a realistic goal that fits your available time.
Plan a time and schedule it in your calendar.
Allow for setbacks. Some days you won’t be able to meet your goals and that’s okay. Life is unpredictable. That’s one of reasons it’s so wonderful.
Forgive yourself if you slip up. Remember to tell yourself it’s okay and tomorrow’s another chance to try again.
Long-Term Action Plan for Fine Parents
Check in with yourself on a regular basis. Are you allowing for setbacks? Are you being kind to yourself? Consider posting positive notes of encouragement throughout your home.
Review your goal. Are you happy with the one you picked? If not, change it. Try something else.
Are you sticking to your schedule? Do you decide not follow through because it would be easier to just not do it? Sometimes it can be hard to keep going, but this is when you’ve got to push through and do it anyway. You’ll feel better when you’re done and you’ll be glad you did. Sometimes inviting a friend to join you will give you extra push you need to follow through.
Review and repeat until it becomes second nature.
Seek additional resources. Read books and articles about the importance of taking care of yourself to continue on your personal path to success as you’ve defined it.