The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Help Your Child
“My child’s behavior is so extreme, he’s driving me crazy!”
“I’ve been told my child has sensory processing issues. I feel so overwhelmed- I don’t know how to help her.”
“I never imagined parenting would be this hard.”
“No matter how hard I try not to, I’m constantly losing my temper with my daughter. I’m not the kind of parent I imagined I’d be.”
“Sometimes I’m shocked by how intensely I react to my son’s behaviors. I’m just so exhausted, something’s got to give.”
“I don’t have anyone to talk to about what’s going on with my son. No one seems to understand. I feel so alone.”
These are direct quotes from parents I’ve worked with. Parents of kids with learning, attention, and behavioral challenges who are struggling to keep their heads above water. Parents who are overwhelmed and don’t know where to turn. Parents who are desperate for answers and consumed by worry.
I was one of these parents.
For my first three years of motherhood, I felt utterly alone. My anxiety was at an all-time high and my previously dialed-in self-care practices were looooong forgotten.
I was a shell of myself, completely preoccupied by my son’s atypical development.
I felt like nobody understood what was going on with him and nobody understood the fears, frustrations and challenges that came with being his parent.
It took three years of drowning in a tsunami of fear and anxiety to realize that I’d been neglecting the most important piece of my son’s developmental puzzle: Me.
While I’d stopped at nothing to get him support- physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, cranial sacral therapy, osteopathic treatments, social groups, feeding therapy, theratogs, every sensory toy you could possibly imagine- I’d done next to nothing to support myself.
The result? I was A. Complete. Disaster.
My poor husband got the brunt of it. My pre-mom self- sweet, empathic, fun-loving, funny and affectionate (definitely tooting my own horn here!)- was replaced in motherhood by a constantly irritated, judgmental, anxiety-ridden, angry and withdrawn mess. Not surprisingly, our marriage took a pretty big hit (click here to learn how we turned things around).
At least once a day I called my mom and broke down sobbing. The amount of time that saint of a woman spent listening to me spew out my fears will surely earn her a special place in heaven!
In the midst of my parenting crisis, I’d forgotten the cardinal rule of motherhood: Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.
We can’t help our kids when we are suffocating.
Getting support around the feelings and experiences WE are having related to our child’s struggles from both parents and professionals who get it is the most important thing we can do to help our child.
Once I had this realization, I began to seek out a community of moms whose kids were experiencing similar challenges. I joined a private Facebook group for moms of kids with sensory processing disorder, I reached out to my son’s OT and asked if she could put me in touch with moms whose kids had similar challenges, I started listening to podcasts about parenting kids with special needs and I joined an in-person support group in my area.
Hearing other moms’ stories- their struggles, their triumphs, things they tried that worked, things they tried that didn’t- had a calming effect on my anxiety.
I no longer felt alone.
Being connected to a community of moms who really got it helped me feel grounded and empowered. I began to feel less fearful about my son’s challenges and more hopeful about his future.
With less anxiety, I had more headspace to reinstate some of the self-care practices I’d let fall by the wayside - meditating, exercising, playing guitar and singing. Little by little I reclaimed myself.
I still experience worry and fear about my son’s development, but those feelings no longer define me or my motherhood experience; I’m able to be present and enjoy my life in spite of them.
If you’re feeling alone in your parenting struggles and don’t know where to turn, it’s time to reach out for support. Here are five ways you can reach out:
1. Join an online support group. Understood.org is an amazing resource for parents of kids who have learning and attention issues. Click here for access to different discussion groups about specific topics ranging from IEPs to social and emotional issues to sibling rivalry. You’ll be able to connect with both parents and experts to get tips and advice on how to handle your most pressing parenting challenges.
Last month I launched the Crazy to Calm online support group through Sensory Mom. The group will open up for registration again in May. And stay tuned for information about a private Sensory Mom Facebook group coming soon.
2. Join an in-person support group. Many local OT clinics offer in-person support groups for parents. Ask your child’s OT if they offer one or, if your child isn’t currently receiving OT, call some local clinics and ask if they have any referrals. If you need help finding one, we can schedule a free 30-minute call and I can help you. Click here to schedule.
If you’re in the San Diego area, check out the H.E.L.P. group. It’s an amazing community of moms organized by Cassie Blakely (mom of two daughters with learning differences) and Elena Mendoza (founder of Integrative Learning) that meets every other month to provide guidance and support to moms of children with atypical development.
I also run an in-person parenting group in North San Diego called The Mindful Parenting Support Group. We meet Wednesdays from 9:15am-10:15am. For more information, email me here.
3. Start listening to podcasts. There are so many amazing parenting podcasts out there! My top picks are: In It, Tilt Parenting and the AT Parenting Survival Podcast. If you’re thinking, when the heck am I going to find time to podcast? I hear you- time is a hot commodity for us moms!
In that case, start with In It the podcast from Understood.org. The format is perfect for time-deprived moms. Each episode is less than 30 minutes and packed with informative and inspirational real-life stories from parents just like you as well as tips and strategies from leading parenting experts.
Hosts Amanda Morin and Lexi Walters are parents who are in it and get it. Their mission is to remind us we’re not alone and that's exactly how I feel after listening.
4. Schedule a coaching session. Having a listening ear to help process, dissect and make sense of both our child’s challenges AND the effect those challenges are having on us can go a long way towards reducing parenting-related anxiety. I offer a free 30 minute strategy session where we can delve into exactly what’s going on with your child and I can direct you towards the right resources to help meet his needs and yours. Click here to schedule.
5. Use Social Media. Social media is a double-edged sword, but when it comes to connecting with moms who are in the same boat, it’s a treasure trove! Some of my favorite moms to follow are: Amanda Morin from Understood.org, Dayna Abrams at Lemonlimeadventures, Alisha Grogan at Yourkidstable, Debbie Reber at Tiltparenting, Angela Pruess at parentswithconfidence, and Natasha Daniels at anxioustoddlers. For comic relief I love Heather Armstrong at Dooce and Scary Mommy.
You are not in this alone. There are many avenues of support to help you shoulder the burden of addressing your child’s struggles and to make parenting more enjoyable. You just have to take the first step. Trust me, it will make all the difference.
Has it been hard to reach out for parenting support? If so, what’s been holding you back? What kind of support do you need the most? Leave your comments below. The Sensory Mom Community and I would love to hear from you.