Knowing when to stop... telling parents to relax

"Self-care is not a selfish act" is true, but not sufficient.

Not for parents. And not during a crisis.

Let me explain why I believe parents - mothers especially - chafe at being told to "relax" and "do something for yourself." What we hear is: "Whatever you are doing right now is neither needed nor helpful." Which is odd, because we are generally thinking "WHY ISN'T ANYONE ELSE DOING ANYTHING?" Because the things we are doing (worrying, researching, weeping, talking, planning, escalating the issue with clinicians and other family members...) are normal and healthy parenting reactions to a situation threatening our most precious concern: our children.

Self-care is necessary to long-term care giving. But having a seriously ill or constantly threatened child is quite appropriately a constant state of alert. It is like juggling balls of flame in a paper house, and we can neither drop them nor can we be confident anyone else will juggle them with the same urgency we can.

What I needed to hear when we were in the muck of our daughter's illness was: "Of course you are horribly stressed." "You are a loving mother, and you are afraid for your child's life and future." "You've been carrying this for a long time and you are doing a great job."

What I needed in order to take a bubble bath or walk around the block was someone else to take the juggling as deadly serious as I do and show me they could do it for me for short periods - but never to imply that what I was doing was unnecessary or that anyone could do it with the same investment as I had.

What I wanted was acknowledgement of the agony of it, not to be told it didn't deserve that feeling.

Yes, parents: pace yourselves: this will take everything you've got and over a long period of time. It's worth it and you are uniquely qualified. One of your jobs, in supporting your child, is surrounding yourself with people who protect your self-care opportunities not because you should not be worried and stressed, but because of course you are.


  1. So appropriate for me right now.

  2. This is so true. You're right on, as usual, Laura. I need to send this to my sister who is raising her autistic Grandson.

    Thank you for your wonderful blog.

  3. do you mean it's not supportive to tell parents that they are over-reacting? ;-)

  4. Brilliant!
    And the terrible conundrum is that our grief/anxiety/fear can make us look, and tell the truth to shame the Devil, sometimes ACT like the alleged "over-protective-Mom/Dad-who's-fault-this-all-is"! Which conversely (perversely?) can make it HARDER to let go, and re-engage with ourselves, and re-fuel to fight another round.

    In this season of giving, here's a wish and a prayer that everyone who needs it, gets to give a little back to themselves for all the wonderful, terrific, brave, unsung deeds of daily heroism. We each deserve it, in spades!

  5. I agree. In fact, I've seen too many friends in treatment whose parents did not take them seriously. So when a parent does take the issue seriously, they should be applauded, because they are right on. EDs are deadly.

  6. One of the many, countless and unbelievable comments I received as a parent trying to get appropriate care for my ed daughter was from a psychiatrist we saw. I told him how terrified and scared I was for my daughter's life...his reply?

    "That's very maternal of you."



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