A Self-Care Menu For Any Parent Of An Atypical Kid

A note from Felicity:

Listen up!

Parents of atypical kids and kids of atypical parents!

I am thrilled to introduce the WTF community to Dr. Rita Eichenstein, a rock star in the world of pediatric neuropsychological assessments, which is fancy wording for diagnosing the relationship between brain health and behavior in children. Which means, when you have a kid with developmental differences (like I do!), and have Rita in your corner, you’ve grabbed the gold ring. After 15 minutes of sitting in her office, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. Rita has the intuition of a crystal ball reader and the intellect of a scientist. She “got” my kid and knew just how to help her AND ME.

Rita just published a book, Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children which sits on my nightstand now with Post-it Notes stuck all over it. But this is not just a book about atypical kids themselves, but how best to parent them and take care of YOURSELF on the journey.

I asked Rita if she would share her genius and charm with us at WTF and she said, “yes!” It’s great to have a specialist who believes that the gifts of parenting come in packages you least expect. And that Good Parenting doesn’t come in perfection, but in compassion and understanding, both for yourself and your kid. 

It is such a relief to hear from an expert that doesn’t sound like a clinician, but like a caring friend.

And to give you a taste of her book, here is a really wonderful, practical excerpt from Not What I Expected, called, “Your Self-Care Menu.” 

You can learn more about Dr. Rita from her website.

Welcome Rita!

Enjoy WTF,

Love, Flicka

When counseling parents, I help them assemble a customized “self-care menu.” The idea is that you brainstorm activities that appeal to you and give them a try in whatever amount you like. You may choose an “appetizer” portion in case you only have fifteen minutes, a “main course” that gives you a larger dose of relief or relaxation, or a “dessert” that you use as reward for a particularly rough day. If you are a full-time working parent, this applies to you as well. In addition to wearing two hats, the home hat and the office hat, you deserve to find some space you can call your own. What would it look like for you?

In putting together your personal self-care menu, you will want to think about your life before you became a parent. What got you out of bed each morning? What was your joy, your favorite hobby, your dream activity? What nourishes your soul, even momentarily? Everyone has interests that can be powerfully healing. Look back and recall the activities that were the most fun or meaningful. Was it laughter and wine with friends? Taking your dog to obedience class? Going to concerts? Cooking a great meal? Playing softball? Repairing bicycles? Playing your guitar? Zumba class? Reading a great novel? Or just having some solitude? Customize the items on your self-help menu so that even reading your list will give you a little lift. Here are the categories that the parents I work with have found to be most helpful.

Connect with Nature

The Japanese have a phrase for the healing effects of nature: shrinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.” Something as simple as taking a walk outside, breathing in the air, and appreciating the wind in the trees can be restorative.

Move Your Body

Look for a physical activity you really enjoy and might even come to crave – riding your bike, dancing, walking, hiking, playing volleyball, boxing. Many people find that it’s more fun if you do this activity with a friend or partner. A great many people practice yoga and there is research to support the treatment of depression with specific types of yoga, although you might find ballroom dancing to be more to your liking.

Master Just One Thing at a Time and Then Celebrate It!

If you learn to master just one thing – that has nothing to do with your child – it can restore your sense of power. It does not matter what this one thing is; it can be anything from learning to knit to running a marathon. A side benefit to mastering just one thing is that competence at one thing leads to great competence in other areas of your life. By mastering that one thing, you prove to yourself that you are still learning, growing, becoming.

Find a Special Place for Yourself Outside the Home

All parents should be able to get away from the house and the role of mom or dad, and have a place where they can feel a glimmer of their old selves. Maybe you need solitude and can locate a special meditative spot in a forest or park near your home. Maybe you enjoy your local health club, where you can work out and also connect with other people who aren’t necessarily parents. Being outside of your home at a place that is not work related, even for a short burst of time, is invigorating.

Join a Group – Support or Otherwise

Joining or forming a support group comprised of other parents of atypical kids is an excellent way to share experiences and reduce your feelings of isolation. Learning form others about what has helped them will show you that there are more paths toward hopefulness than you may have imagined. If you feel the need for a community of people who are not parents, where you can share other interests, that is every bit as legitimate as a support group.

Make Date Night a Top Priority (with Your Partner or Your Friends)

Before you became a parent, you had dates with your partner or your friends. It’s time to revive that enjoyable custom.

Help Someone Else

You might think you are burned out with helping, seeing as you are already a caretaker for your child. But I’ve found in talking to many families that the one thing they are most grateful for is the opportunity to give back. It may seem like a terrible thought to ask you to give even more than you are giving, but the funny thing is, seeing people (or animals) in terrible situations that are different from your own can trigger some positive, meaningful feelings inside of you.

Reprinted from Not What I Expected by Rita Eichenstein, PhD, by arrangement with Perigee, a member of the Penguin Publishing Group, a Penguin Random House Company, Copyright © 2015 by Rita Eichenstein.

Rita will be speaking and signing copies of her book in Los Angeles at The Grove’s Barnes and Noble today, April 22 at 7pm.