Caring for yourself while caring for your depressed child is hard. When I first started working as youth worker with at-risk youth I almost burned out. I wasn’t constantly worried about them, and their well-being. I also wondered if I could really help them , or if what I was doing made a difference. When I first became a counsellor I had the same problem. If things weren’t going well with my clients I was worried about them, and questioned my own abilities as a therapist.
Where Did I Go Wrong?
In my work with parents supporting their kids with mental health challenges I see them go through the same thing. They wonder if there was something they did that caused their child’s problems. The causes of depression are complex but this doesn’t stop parents from feeling responsible. Often agonizing over things they have said while frustrated at their child’s behaviour. They often feel like their entire life revolves around their children and their struggles. So how do you escape this pit of despair? In this article I’ll share the top two things that have helped me to stay healthy and happy while doing the challenging work that I love.
What Story are You Telling Yourself?
There’s not getting around the fact that caring for a child with depression or anxiety is very difficult. But sometimes we make that hard job even more difficult by the stories we tell ourselves. When I first started out as a counsellor if one of my clients wasn’t doing well I would think I was a bad therapist. This made me feel worse. It also made me avoid looking at the tough cases and see if there was anything I could do to improve my performance.
Look at the Evidence
When your child is struggling what story do you tell yourself? Is this story accurate? Is it helpful? Once you’ve identified what you are saying to yourself look at the evidence for and against this belief. For me I looked at the research around counselling. I discovered that counselling helps for about 80% of people, but not for the other 20%. Clients dropping out of treatment is quite common especially with adolescents. I also talked to colleagues who reassured me this was a normal process.
My New Story
Using this evidence I came up with a new story. I would tell myself, some clients drop out and some don’t get better. If I don’t get the result I want for a client it’s not necessarily because I did something wrong. When I did do something wrong I’d ask how can I fix it? If I did everything in my power to help them but it still didn’t work I’d consult with colleagues and let it go.
Create a New Story
Based on the evidence what is a more helpful story you can tell yourself? Once you have this story write it down and put it on your wall or beside your mirror. Every time you start to blame yourself and get caught in regret recite the new story. Over time the new story will start to take over and outshine the negative thoughts and self-criticisms. Even if you’re not blaming yourself care-giving for a depressed kid can be flat out exhausting. The thing that I’ve found to be most helpful in staying healthy is by taking one full day off per week.
When Did Weekdays Become the New Weekend?
I remember when I became a parent and I started looking forward to the weekdays more than the weekends. The weekend was based on the Sabbath practice of Jews of resting from work on Saturday and the Church Sunday schedule of Christians. It was supposed to be a time of rest and relaxation from work. How has it gotten to the point where many parents yearn to go to work to get a break from their kids?
Care for Yourself By Taking A Rest Day
Blame it on technology, over-scheduling, or the frenetic pace of modern life but one thing is for certain, as a society we have forgotten how to rest. Parents also feel a lot of pressure to constantly be there for their kids providing them emotional support, educational support, and overall supervision leaving them less time to recoup and recover from the week. Here are my steps to having an effective rest day that you will truly look forward to.
No Have To’s Only Get To’s
On my rest day I don’t do anything I don’t want to do, simple as that. I just do things I find fun and energizing. Of course, I still need to watch my son, but I try to incorporate him into the fun things I do. I also try to set some time where he must play by himself and I can do my own thing at home while he’s still in my care. Any work or chores are off-limits on my rest day. I also try to limit my screen time to 90 minutes of TV. No social media, news, or podcasts. This helps me disconnect from all the stressful messages I’m bombarded with throughout the week.
Example Rest Day Schedule
I start my rest day at 6pm on Friday with dinner. At 7pm my wife and I put our son to bed and go for a walk while my in-laws watch the baby monitor. At 8pm I watch a movie with my wife and then stretch and do my bedtime routine. I wake up at 7am with my son and sing some songs while he plays and make him breakfast. At 9am we go for a walk as a family in a nearby wooded area. When we return home I play my guitar from 1030am to 12am then have lunch with my son before putting him down for his nap. I also nap at 1pm, and at 2pm read a book while my son plays. At 3pm I call family and friends and my son joins the call if he likes.
At 4pm I shop and cook with my son and after dinner my rest day has ended. You’ll notice that I still have to care for my son quite a bit so I’m still working in a sense. But the key is I still do all the things that I enjoy, and try to incorporate him into the process. I also try and do all my chores on Sunday so that I don’t feel stressed about errands that need to get done.
To be honest I struggle with resting. I love to work and be productive and feel restless resting. That’s also why I need it even more. If it were up to me I’d work all the time and never take a break, so having a plan to rest I essential. For others you may already rest a lot and feel you don’t have time to take another whole day off. This will be an opportunity for you to be more efficient on the other days so that you can truly enjoy your rest day instead of feeling like chores and errands are hanging over your head.
This practice has helped me to be a better counsellor, father and husband. Caring for yourself while caring for your depressed child does not have to be impossible. I hope that you found this helpful in taking care of yourself so that you can show up for your kids. If you have any questions feel free to post them in the comment section below.