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A Time to Nurture, a Time to Heal 

It’s that time of year to turn inwards briefly to take stock of how to nurture yourself after the tumultuous election season, before plowing into the busy holiday activities. 

The following is an excerpt from my book “Not What I Expected” about taking care of yourself. It’s a timely reminder to take care of yourself to be the best parent you can be. 

It’s important for parents to give some conscious thought to create and 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.


It’s ADHD Month: How Are You Doing? 

Parents who learn their child is atypical in some way often struggle with a sense of loss and disappointment, which can also drive a wedge in the relationship with their child.

 ADHD can be a particularly frustrating condition since it appears as if your child could do it if s/he wanted to. Remind yourself that ADHD is a very real condition and work on increasing your bond with your child. 
 Here are some activities that a parent can do to help reconnect with a child struggling with ADHD: 

Parents of ADHD children can get exasperated, if not downright frustrated with their child’s behavior. Children with ADHD process information differently, so cultivating a new way to view them is important. 

Here are a few suggestions:
1. “Special time”: create daily 20 minutes of time where you are alone with your child, where he or she gets to choose the activity, or just to hang out. Bonding without external distractions will help you rediscover what a wonderful kid you have.

2. Bonding activities that include – whatever your child likes! Cooking, art, or something active like playing ball in the yard or even having your kid teach you to play their favorite video game can help you both enjoy each other.

3. Create memories: do activities that you can talk about and reminisce in the future (“remember that time when…”) / Shared memories creates long -lasting bonds.

4. And finally, remember to laugh together -a lot. Sharing joy can be an important piece of the parent-child bond.

For more info on ADHD and parenting, here’s the link to the whole article:

Ask Our Experts: How to Parent a Child Struggling with ADHD

How to Love Your Weekdays 

Why We Don’t Love Our Weekdays as Much As Our Weekends 

Everyone loves time off from work; we become have gotten used to looking forward to the weekend from an early age. “TGIF” is cultural influence that creates the mindset from an early age of work work work and then – ahhhh, the weekend. 
The truth is, nothing could be further from what is truly beneficial to maintain a healthy mind and body. 
Our work week should be a positive activity in terms of anticipating, going through and feeling satisfied by the weeks end. 

Although the workweek does not conjure up positive images in many people’s imagination, there are ways to adjust your mindset. 

This is especially important if you are a parent, because your “work week” is most often 24/7. 
The human brain has a negativity bias, that is, if left alone, the brain will continually look on the dark side. This was evolutionarily built into our brains as a survival mechanism. It is, however, no longer valid in our modern world and people who maintain an negative or angry mindset are actually less healthy and more prone to heart attacks and illness. 
So since both our culture and our evolutionary wiring keeps prompting us to view our weekdays through a negative lense, we need to purposefully re-shape our thinking and energy towards thinking positive and creating a positive and enthusiastic mindset that enables us to feel more joy during the week. 
Here’s what to do: 

1. Breathe : really. Take three deep satisfying breaths. In and out. Ahhh. Instant refresh 

2. Self talk : we know from research about positive psychology that what you tell yourself influences how you feel. Practice saying good things: “isn’t is a beautiful morning”. “I’m so happy that I have packed my delicious lunch today”. Look for good moments; they are there. Actions such as putting fresh flowers in your cubicle or kitchen will lift your mood. 

3. Smile: the physical act of smiling actually influences your mind as well as those around you. Smile often and you will get a thousand smiles in return. (Ok, maybe in New York you will get 5 smiles in return) 

4. R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Respect yourself. Know when you’ve hit ground zero. No one is a work machine. Learn to recognize your body signals that you are depleted. Take an hour off for that walk or massage. Take a mental health day off. It will do wonders to replenish yourself. If your burnout continues, get some therapy to learn more self help techniques. 

“Not What I Expected”Wins Again!

In an unexpected turn of events, I randomly checked my Twitter account last week. Having a very busy clinical psychology practice doesn’t allow me much time to keep up with social media. But somehow on an unexplained whim,  I checked my  Twitter feed and discovered this: 

Not What I Expected has won the silver medal in the “Living Now Book Awards” a division of Independent Publishers! To be more correct, it was tied for silver with Dr Laura Markham for her book “Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings” for which I have no problem giving a big shout out to her wonderful book as well! 

Parents now have more and more resources to inspire them to be the best parents they can be! 

As I’ve said before, if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an army to raise an atypical child. If you’re reading this, I am so honored to be part of your “army”. 

Best wishes until next time, Dr Rita 

Have You Found Your Mind Yet? 

Hi Parents! 

Is that you in the picture? No, I didn’t think so. Summer with atypical kids is not exactly  bucolic, in fact summer with atypical kids can be quite challenging!

So, It’s finally back to school time! Is this going to be your time to reclaim your… Self? And find your mind that you said you were losing back around mid-summer? 
As parents, it’s a natural instinct to put your personal needs on the back burner during the child rearing years. Certainly with atypical children, their needs become urgently front and center while parents needs get seriously back-burnered. It can lead to some stressed out parents, for sure! What parent hasn’t looked in the mirror at least once and said “I feel like I’m losing my mind!” 
Now that summer is in the rear view mirror, parents have a few extra hours daily to reclaim their own lives. Or do they? 
Not necessarily! It takes a conscious effort to S.T.O.P. 

  • Stop. Really stop. 
  • Take a breath. A deep one. Go for it. 
  • Observe. What is going on around you? Inside of you? 
  • Proceed mindfully

And in doing so, please take mindful stock of what gets neglected inside yourself as a harried parent. Is it that physical exam you’ve been putting off? How about your long neglected tennis game? Massage? Or…… What about your resolution to work on de-stressing? 

My recommendation is to begin with examining your current stress level and consciously taking steps to work on it. For some, it can be an introduction to yoga. Or mindful meditation. 
Here’s why, from one of my favorite yoga sites, which highlights the research based benefits of having a yoga practice. 

(And tip: if you’re not the “bendy” type, or have physical limitations, don’t leap into doing any yoga poses without medical guidance, you might be happier with the sitting practice of meditation. More to come about the benefits of meditation as a de-stress practice.