I never imagined that I would be writing a letter to the special education director in my town. When I dreamed of becoming a mom, having a spirited and intense child was not in my plans.
I didn’t expect that there would be major struggles with anxiety, leaving me feeling completely inadequate and incapable as a mom. I didn’t envision being pushed to my limits emotionally, feeling like I couldn’t possibly give one more ounce of my being.
This was not what motherhood was supposed to look like.
After working for over 10 years with children with behavioral challenges, kids in foster care, as well as kids in a specialized school with developmental disabilities, you would think I would know how to handle parenting my own child. Instead, I have found myself in tears over and over.
I recently shared my story about discovering the explanation for a lot of the challenges we’ve experienced with our daughter over at Raising Lifelong Learners. Click here to read it.
In case you haven’t read it, here’s a quick synopsis: Through a series of connecting the dots of the past 7 years, along with getting the testing to determine if there was a need for any special education, we’ve come to recognize that our daughter is gifted.
As it turns out, anxiety is very common among gifted children, along with intensity and sensitivity.
If you want to know more about what “gifted” means, here’s some great resources:
- How Do I Know if My Child is Gifted? from Raising Lifelong Learners
- “Gifted Children” episode with Dr. Beth Onufrak on the Child Psych Central Podcast
- Gifted Overexcitabilities from My Little Poppies
- 5 Ways to Identify a Gifted Child from VeryWell
- The Intensities of Giftedness from Huffington Post
- A Kid with an Issue Can’t Be Gifted, Right? from Raising Lifelong Learners
During this journey, it’s become more and more obvious to me how important self care is for me to stay healthy as a mom.
Why self care for moms of intense children matters:
Here’s a quick glimpse at what raising a gifted, intense, twice-exceptional, or spirited child can look like:
- Your child melts down or yells “BUT WHYYYYYYY?” when asked to do a simple task such as brushing teeth or putting shoes on.
- He is very sensitive when in a loud surroundings, yet is also the loudest child you’ll ever meet, and basically doesn’t stop making noises, talking, or yelling all day long.
- She asks deep questions about life, death, and social issues – often out of the blue.
- DRAMA – lots of it. Good things are THE BEST THINGS EVER and bad things are THE WORST THING TO POSSIBLY HAPPEN!
- She remembers intricate details, random facts and information about certain topics, but becomes inconsolable when you serve her the wrong meal at dinner.
- You ask your child to put away his clothes that are on the floor, and 15 minutes later, he’s created a new fort in his room using every possible piece of fabric available.
- MORE of everything. More talking, more passion, more crying, more whining, more excitement, more thinking, more worrying.
One mom put it this way: “Having a roommate is hard. (Haven’t there been a ton of shows about roommates?) Having your roommate be Sheldon [from The Big Bang Theory] is REALLY hard.”
To summarize, raising a gifted, intense, or twice-exceptional child can be EXHAUSTING.
After a particularly harsh couple of weeks I am just now discovering how very important [self-care] is. Learning that it is not only okay, but also necessary to take breaks – to do something that I enjoy (without constant interruption), and recognizing that, yup, I cannot remember when the last time I showered was – has been a struggle to accept.
This basic thing, caring for oneself, even in the smallest of ways is so very very important. Now to figure out how to fit this in and teach everyone (including myself) to respect these moments and recognize that they are healing.
My kids are intense. I love them to pieces, but they are high energy kids with a thirst for learning. That combination leaves me exhausted at the end of the day. (emphasis mine)
On the TILT podcast episode titled, “Finding Peace in Parenting the Child You Didn’t Expect When You Were Expecting”, Margaret Webb says, “The most important thing is to take care of yourself, and to allow yourself to have time to kind of be okay with the emotions that are bubbling up…”.
Self care is important for moms of spirited or gifted kiddos because of how intense daily life can be. It’s essential because, without it, we can easily become burnt out, and this has devastating effects for everyone in the family.
[bctt tweet=”Self care is important for moms of gifted children because of how intense daily life can be.”]
How can moms of intense, gifted, or spirited children implement better self care?
Here’s several ideas based on my own experience, as well as the tips from many other moms in the trenches of raising intense kids, grouped into 4 key areas of wellness.
Colleen of Raising Lifelong Learners shares the value of getting away for a weekend and doing something you enjoy.
I’m a firm believer that we moms must get away every once in a while. I know it’s harder for some than others, but I highly recommend this for any mom – even if you have to work your way up from a few hours to an overnight, it’s entirely worth it!
Colleen recommends doing something that recharges you and treating yourself during your weekend away, and I agree!
This past fall, I wanted to get away for my 35th Birthday. I went with 4 friends to Boston for the weekend, and it was an incredible time together. We ate delicious food, laughed a lot, and saw my favorite band in concert. Oh, and we had lots of conversations that did not involve getting interrupted every few moments!
Speaking of concerts, music can be a powerful way to unwind and destress as a mom. Even if you can’t get away to listen to your favorite music on your own, you can still make it happen with the kids.
Caitlin of My Little Poppies shares how listening to and dancing to HER favorite music has become a fun family tradition!
Pursuing Personal Passions:
Finding things that you enjoy can be truly valuable for moms of gifted or intense kids.
Giving yourself time and space to pursue these passions can decrease your level of overwhelm and exhaustion.
My husband and I have set aside two time blocks per week that are sacred times for me. One night I get to join a group where I delve into learning subjects I love.
The other time is learning to play hockey. I started at 43, when all three children were playing the sport. I now get why they love it so much. I get an hour of chasing a puck to relieve stress and a new understanding of what my kids are doing. They get to see momma push herself to learn new things. Every once in a while, hubby comes home from work early and hands me gift cards to go shopping for me all by myself.
Taking time to care for your physical health as a mom can actually give you more energy to keep up with your intense, active kiddos. And exercise does not have to take a huge amount of time out of your day – many of my workouts are 15 minutes or less.
It’s sooo important for me to take time for my self-care and wellness so that I can be on my mommy A game. I’ve recently found a group of other moms and we have connected on FitBit for weekly step challenges. I head outdoors 5 or more evenings a week for a long walk. It gives me a chance to exercise and regroup.
My 9 year old loves watching my statistics in real time and has been my biggest cheerleader. I’ve gone from averaging 7,000 steps per day to 13,000 steps per day with a lot more energy. In addition to be a health benefit to me, I also feel that I am modeling the healthy lifestyle that I wish my kids to have for their entire lives.
I’m pregnant right now, but prior to pregnancy I did heavy weight lifting which was really good “me time”. I try to take a mid-day walk while listening to music or a podcast a couple of times a week.
I don’t know about you, but I do not do well with added stress when I’m overtired. Generally speaking, I am much more irritable and grumpy when I haven’t had enough sleep. This can be tough, because often gifted, intense, or spirited children can have sleep issues, which means you may be dealing with being up at night, even if they are older.
So whenever possible, I recommend getting a solid night’s sleep! This may require you to get to bed earlier than you would like, so that you are ready for the next day.
This is one area I’m still working on, because I enjoy staying up late. But I know that for my own physical & mental health, getting a good night’s sleep is essential.
Daily Quiet Time:
I’m an introvert, and my daily quiet time, where there are no expectations or demands on me, has become an incredibly valuable part of my spiritual wellness.
I’ve recognized that our day goes much better when I get up earlier than the rest of the family. I’m able to have my time with God, drink my coffee, and do some writing prior to putting on the many hats I’ll need to wear that day.
My daily quiet time allows me to fill up spiritually and gives me the strength I need to face the challenges of the day.
Caitlin of My Little Poppies refers to this as The Space Between: “The space between is free, unstructured time; those gaps between the scheduled events and obligations in your life.”
Caitlin points out that having time each day that is unstructured and unplanned is essential for kids, but it is also incredibly important for us adults, as well. Allowing time in your schedule for quiet time or “The Space Between” can be a key part of your self care.
Listening to Podcasts:
This has become one of my absolute favorite ways to grow spiritually as well as maintain my sanity as a mom.
When my daughter spends the entire afternoon pretending to be a baby cheetah, I can give myself a break by popping in earbuds while I make dinner or do the laundry. And at the same time, I can listen to something uplifting and encouraging.
I feel that date night is essential for every marriage, but I think it’s even more important when you’re parenting intense children. Date night is an opportunity to improve our connection with each other (without being interrupted), to get on the same page about things, and just to have fun.
There are times when my husband and I are just plain worn out, but when we make time for date night, we are much more able to face the challenges of parenting.
Of course, you can’t just rely on date nights to keep you and your spouse on track when it comes to parenting. Having consistent communication is also important to maintain the health of your relationship as you parent an intense child.
Kristi says, “Being able to talk [with my husband] about intensities has helped significantly. [My husband] appreciating what I survive all day helps a great deal.”
One thing that has helped my husband and I is to try to sit down weekly and plan out the coming week. It helps us to get on the same page about events, expectations, and any other issues that need to be discussed. In addition, we can plan any family activities we want to do outside of the norm.
Does this always happen every week? No, but that’s our goal, and it’s definitely much better than when we weren’t doing it at all.
You are worth it!
Hopefully you have seen the importance of self care for moms of intense children, as well as some ways to go about it. It starts with making the decision that YOU ARE WORTH IT! Then, you’ve got to take action to put some strategies into place for your self care.
Here’s a few more ideas for creating a self-care routine:
- Self Care for Moms by Caitlin at My Little Poppies
- Personal Wellness – How I pursue personal wellness as a mom
- Dear Tired Mama of Gifted Kids by Colleen at Raising Lifelong Learners
COMMENT below and let me know if you have struggled with caring for yourself as a mom of an intense, gifted, or spirited child. Are any of these ideas helpful to you, or do you have other suggestions to add to the list?
What a wonderful posts and perfect for Mother’s Day! Thank you for including us. <3
Thanks Caitlin! I truly appreciate your input. I’m so thankful I encountered your blog along my journey and have learned so much from you.
This is a great post, Esther, and such an important one! Thank you for including some of our links, and for sharing your story on RLL. I’m looking forward to directing people to this post for those times they need to take better care of themselves. ????????
Thanks Colleen! I hope that this can encourage some other moms, for sure. And I probably need to read it regularly to remind myself of what I should be doing, too.
ahaha. 15 minutes after you ask them to put clothing away… been there! on a daily basis! and the intensity. today i spent an hour at my son’s school and his team lost at kickball, and to let me know exactly how that felt for him, he likened it to the hobbit, if instead of beating smaug, the dwarves and bilbo had all been defeated. i love mama self care posts, it’s of such primary importance. i have several friends with whom i share self care accountability duties – they hold me accountable and i do the same for them, as in we give each other self care assignments, or require a list of what the other has been doing in terms of self care lately. can’t emphasize it enough. 🙂
I think this is a wonderful reminder to moms all year long. My daughter is go, go, go from the minute she wakes up to the minute she falls asleep. Sometimes I have to take a minute and walk into a room and close the door. These moments are important in our lives, but we do need time to rest and relax and fill our cups back up. All of these points are right on the money. I know for me personally my fitness is suffering lately and that’s only compounding on the stress because I don’t have that time to let the stress go.
Wonderful reminder, Esther!
Thanks for your thoughts, Heather! It can be so exhausting sometimes!
This is a great resource with a lot of good information. I’m definitely pinning this one to my “surviving Parenthood” board. Thank you for putting the time into writing this.
I’m the mom of an intense child who took far too long to discover self-care! When my second child was born my intense four-year old became incredibly overwhelming for me. He meets ALL of the criteria you mentioned in this post. He’s an amazing big brother but sometimes he’s just too much. Developing a morning self-care routine saved our relationship because I was becoming crazy screaming mom regularly. Great advice!
Thank you! Yes, it can be overwhelming sometimes, which is why self-care is absolutely essential!
What a great post. Can’t wait to share. One big truth I learned about self-care as a mom of an intense inflexible child is that it is good and healthy to be OK even if your child is struggling and is unhappy or anxious. While it is natural to feel upset when our kids are hurting, too much up and down emotions tends to cause me to struggle and not be able to parent well. Empathize and walk with them but don’t feel like you have to try to feel everything they are feeling.