How to Practice Self-Care When Your Child is in Crisis

When your child struggles with addiction or other mental health issues, their needs often overshadow your own. As mothers, it’s easy for us to ignore our own health when we know our child in overwhelming pain. With most of our time and energy devoted to worrying about our struggling child, it’s easy to put everything else, including our own needs, on the back burner.

Addiction can also bring along with it manipulation or lying, and this makes the situation even more complicated. Often times, threats of suicide or relapse can make you take drastic measures, even if they enable bad behavior, and thereby contribute to feelings of despair, anxiety, and helplessness.

The following are five ways that mothers can practice self-care despite the exhausting feelings associated with your child’s behaviors, which have a ripple effect through the entire family.

There are many ways to practice self-care, including some more obvious external actions, like getting sleep and eating healthy. These approaches start from the inside first.

1. Establish and maintain boundaries

As a parent, it is important to acknowledge that your child is an adult who needs to be responsible for their own actions. While it may feel impossible to hold boundaries during a time in which you fear for your grown child’s safety, it is nonetheless important to distinguish between supporting and enabling.

It may be your initial instinct to fix the problem. However, it is more effective to offer emotional support and let life dictate the appropriate lessons. Be attentive, emotionally available, and willing to help your child gain control of their behaviors without preventing them from dealing with the negative consequences of their actions.

For example, instead of giving your child money, offer them food or ask them ask non-judgmental, open-ended questions about their day.

2. Build a community of support

It can be easy to get consumed by the constant upheavals associated with your child’s addiction or mental health issues. The persistent fear and uncertainty may start to dictate your thoughts. And to prevent yourself from internalizing this pain, it is imperative to talk to someone about what you’re going through.  

Engaging in recreational activities with your friends can also help you cultivate meaningful connections. It may feel like nobody understands your situation, but you are not alone.

Be careful of off-loading all of your grief on to one friend. This can burn them out when you really need them for the long haul. It is important to seek out a network of supportive friends and family to lighten the load and also cultivate compassion for yourself.

Getting involved in a support group for mothers can help you find people going through the same struggle. A therapist or counselor can also offer a safe space to filter your grief and receive objective advice.

3. Be grounded in your body

The concept of grounding is similar to that of centering. Since much of the stress we experience is rooted in our physical bodies, activities like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and hot baths are all methods that can help you pause and come back to the present moment.

You can also practice grounding yourself to the earth. Hiking, gardening, walking through the grass barefoot, or sinking your feet into the sand can all provide grounding and liberating experiences when things feel off kilter.

4. Let go with compassion

People often confuse letting go with abandonment. However, when we step back and practice letting go with compassion, we allow our children to find their answers, while still offering unwavering love and support.

We need to support, validate, recognize, and advocate, while at the same time stop doing for them what they can do for themselves. Doing and fixing things for our children disempowers them and sends the message that they are unable to stand on their own. Instead, listening to our children is often more effective than doing for them.

5. Check in with yourself daily on an emotional, physical, and spiritual level.

As moms, we get so used to taking care of everyone else that it becomes easy to forget to take a step back and look at where we are. When you wake up in the morning, try to reflect on where you are emotionally, spiritually, and physically. When you know your needs, it’s easier to set goals to meet them.

One of the most challenging and difficult situations to endure as a mother is watching your child struggle with an addiction. Your initial instinct is to be a caretaker. You want to save your child and find a quick-fix to the problem.

However, sometimes the most helpful thing that you can do is offer unwavering support and compassion while still taking care of yourself. Setting and holding boundaries, maintaining meaningful connections, and practicing mindfulness are critically important. Prioritizing your self care sets the tone to lead the entire family to healing, including your child.

For over 30 years, Robbin O’Neill-Gregory has dedicated her personal and professional life to learning, embodying, and applying strategies to help recovering individuals and their families. She currently is the Managing Director at Recovery Fusion, which provides independent recovery support services.

Learn more about Recovery Fusion at: https://www.recoveryfusion.com/

Read Evo’s interview with Robbin about the addiction treatment industry, Dark Practices in the Addiction Treatment Industry.

Evo Health and Wellness is an outpatient addiction treatment program that respects where you are and where you want to go. Clients set goals that work for them, whether they include complete abstinence or moderation. Evo sees success as lasting change in the client’s life, including physical health, movement towards personal goals, and their sense of connection and purpose. Evo’s program integrates psychotherapy, psychiatry, life coaching, and somatic therapy. Learn more about Evo's program for young people.