Tending Both Sides of the Parenting Coin
How are you doing?
No really, how are you really doing? Not just in this very moment (although I do care about that, too), but at the center and core of your being?
When I ask how you’re doing, knowing intimately what’s involved in parenting a child who requires massive amounts of your time and energy, the thing I am most curious and concerned about is how you are doing at a physiological, nervous-system level. When was the last time someone talked to you about the importance of your nervous-system health and stability? When was the last time you really stopped to check in with yourself and do an honest assessment of this?
Usually, when I ask these questions of the parents I support, their answers are “never” and “never,” so if that’s how you found yourself responding, you’re not alone. Either way, I hope you stick with me here and read on, because this is a topic that we should be talking about all the time or at least as much as we’re talking about our child’s challenging behaviors and what to do about them. I want you to know (really know) why your nervous system health is so important to me, and must be a priority for you, too.
If you’re a member of The Resilience Room community or have attended my Brain First Parenting program, then you've likely heard me refer to the “two sides of the coin” when it comes to our unique parenting experience. There’s one side of this coin that is all about our children, and parenting them through a neurobehavioral lens. We dive into questions like: How are behaviors and the brain connected? What does this mean for my unique child? Where exactly does my child’s brain work differently when it comes to seemingly simple cognitive skills we assume all kids can handle? How do I support my child and parent them in ways that help them settle in their environments? What accommodations do they need in order to be successful?
This side of the coin has life-changing information for us as parents, giving information we didn’t even realize we were missing, and offering ways of seeing our child in a whole new light. It’s also where — for many parents — the conversation typically starts and stays (or ends). It’s an external focus, entirely on the child. There is rarely a flipping of this coin to see what’s on the other side, and that is where we miss the entire other half of what is needed for us to thrive in this unique parenting experience.
You can have all the information in the world about the neurobehavioral model, how it applies to your child, and how to go about implementing it, but you still won't get the results that are possible for you, your child and your family if you neglect your own well-being.
The other side of this coin is all about us, the parent. It’s about the how and why behind our own nervous system health. It’s about paying attention, in very intentional ways, to how we’re doing at the deepest levels of our spiritual, physical and emotional health. It’s about understanding why we require resilience for this parenting journey and how we go about building that resilience each day. And most importantly, it’s about how we raise our awareness so we can always be moving towards greater resiliency and wellness, day-by-day.
If you find yourself reading this and feeling like you can’t possibly focus on yourself or add one more thing to your plate, I want to tell you that as a parent of a child with significant neurobehavioral challenges— I get it. But I also want to be super clear about why it’s necessary for us to focus equal energy on each side of this coin. You can have all the information in the world about the neurobehavioral model, how it applies to your child, and how to go about implementing it in your day-to-day parenting, but you will still not get the results that are possible for you, your child and your family if you neglect your own well-being in this transformation. Yes, you will see a positive change. And yes, your child will start to settle slowly over time. But the progress will be so much greater if you can focus on your resilience in tandem with the focus on your child.
And so, what is the key to continuing to stay on this brain-first parenting path and being able to thrive in the process?
Building resilience each day. Strengthening our nervous system. Finding ways to stay regulated so we can then help our child co-regulate in the ways they require.
And yes, there are meaningful practices you can implement that take only moments a day.
Getting fresh air. Prioritizing sleep. Moving your body gently each day. Setting healthy boundaries with those around you. Taking moments of your day for prayer or meditation or necessary quiet. Short journaling before bed. Acknowledging the often troubling and mixed emotions that come with this parenting experience. Slowly moving through those emotions. Doing something that serves no other purpose than bringing you joy. Finding a community of people who hear you and see you and understand your experience.
Do me a favor: Find a coin. Hold that coin in your hand. Put it in your pocket where you can reach in and feel it several times a day. Or put it in a space in your home where you know you’ll see it every day. And each time you feel or see that coin, remember that other side. The one that focuses on the most important part of the whole neurobehavioral equation: YOU. And then take some small step to build your resilience in that moment. It doesn’t need to be perfect.
Want to deepen your understanding of both sides of this coin, surrounded by a group of amazing parents who get it? Check out The Resilience Room membership community. I’d love to meet you there.
Eileen Devine works in Portland, OR as a therapist and coach supporting parents of children with special needs. She is also a consultant for families impacted by FASD, PANS/PANDAS and other neurobehavioral conditions through her private practice, working with families nationally and internationally. She lives with her husband and two amazing kids, one of whom happens to live with FASD. For more information, visit eileendevine.com.