This is a repost of an entry previously posted on the Easy to Love but Hard to Raise blog , which focuses on the difficulty of parenting children with all sorts of behavioral, emotional, and other 'invisible" disabilities. I'm reposting it on this blog because I think it pinpoints something that we all struggle with: stress and its impact on our health as caregivers.
I think it’s no secret that parents of children with special needs – obvious specials needs, invisible special needs, intense special needs, manageable special needs – experience stress. Simply being a parent is stressful, obviously (heck, being a human is stressful!) but when you add doctor and therapist appointments, medication, intense behavioral management, isolation, judgment (oh, the judgment!) and co-parenting disagreements (or the flip side of that coin – single parenthood), the stress level of parents like us can be over the top.In the book, Easy to Love but Hard to Raise , we include an expert Q+A on this topic and there’s tons of evidence showing that it’s not just me saying it or you thinking it – it’s a fact. Special needs parents, and particularly those people parenting children with behavioral issues – have higher stress levels than anyone else on the planet. That last part is mine, but it sometimes feels that way to me.Here are some links:ADHD: Beyond the ChildStress and Parenting in Adults Interacting with Children with ADHD (this has a lot of info about alcoholism + parental stress)ADHD and Mothers’ Psychological Distress: The Importance of Child Behavior and Mothers’ Feelings of ControlDivorce More Likely in ADHD Families?So why is divorce more likely in ADHD families? And why are parents of children with behavioral issues more stressed out than other parents?I’m sure we all know! Because it’s really, really, really, really hard to parent a child with behavioral issues! If home, the very place that’s supposed to be a place of respite, calm, and nurturing turns into a constant battlefield at worst, or at best a place where your child’s behavior needs to be carefully managed, of course it’s going to impact a marriage. Add to that money problems (therapists, psychiatrists, OT, educational advocates, and medications all cost $$$), disagreements in the best way to parent the child, and lack of decent time together (because it’s so hard to get a babysitter!) and it’s really no wonder that a marriage suffers.And it’s especially difficult if that child, like mine, not only has ADHD and PDD (or whatever your child’s particular alphabet soup is) but also is incredibly, amazingly, predictably oppositional. Why my child’s impulses and frustrations and fears and anxiety and processing issues have to manifest themselves in a big fat NO every single time we interact with him is completely beyond me! NO!NO!NO! You freaking stupid dickhole! NO!I’ve never reacted well to being yelled at or sworn at, and hearing it from my 8-year-old makes it no easier to take.Anyway, I know I’m preaching to the choir here. You know how difficult and stressful it can be to parent a child who has difficult behaviors, and while it helps to know those behaviors aren’t actually their fault (because of brain chemistry or brain damage or some other neurological issue) it is hard to come to a place of complete acceptance of it all. Some children react well to therapies and medications and interventions. Some, like mine, do not. Some, like mine, send you into a boiling whirlpool of worry whenever you think about the future and what it might bring.Also, the fact that serious behavioral challenges and mental illness are invisible to the rest of the world add to the stress and worry you feel at home. The judgement we all feel when we’re out in the world is overwhelming.Can’t she control her child?That kid is a brat. It must be because of bad parenting.Your son would not stay in his seat today in class. Please talk to him about this when he gets home and give him a serious consequence.You have him on too tight a leash. Lighten up! He acts that way because you’re too controlling.He acts fine with me. You must be doing something wrong at home.Have you tried a sticker chart?Oy.So, all this stress and all this worry – how does it impact a person?Is a surprise to know it can impact physical health? And not just in chronic back-ache, ground teeth, and lost sleep. It can have much deeper, far-reaching impacts on health. Both Kay Marner, the co-editor of Easy to Love but Hard to Raise , and myself have health issues that are related to chronic stress. In my case, my health issue is something that runs in my family, but at my age and weight it seems to be hitting me much earlier than it had other family members. And in Kay’s case, no one in her family has her particular stress-related illness. Physically, parents of special needs children have poorer physical health than parents of neurologically-more-typical kids.Health issues associated with chronic stress include: pain, heart disease, digestive issues, sleep disturbances, depression, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, substance abuse, and eczema, to name a few.So what’s a poor parent to do? Stress out and suffer? Take lots and lots of medicine? Try yoga?Yes and yes and yes.If you are someone who is very stressed and who knows it is impacting your health, I urge you to go to your doctor, your psychiatrist, your naturopath, your acupuncturist, your whatever, and try to get your health issues taken care of. Be persistent. Let your doctor/psychiatrist/naturopath/acupuncturist know that your STRESS is REAL, and your HEALTH issues are real, too.Last spring I was feeling really crappy. I was working part-time out of the house, trying to do all marketing for my family’s business, trying to run my little publishing company, and going through the 1st-grade-year-from-Hell with my son. My stress level was the highest it’s ever been in my life…and then I started gaining weight. 5 lbs a month, 3 months straight. Now, I know you all don’t know me in person, but suffice it to say that I am not a skinny girl. 15 lbs on this 5’3” body was about 45 too many. I was eating the same, I thought, although I was also starving all the time and had no energy.I went to my doctor. He suggested therapy.I asked for some blood tests. He suggested therapy.I went out to my car and cried.Therapy was not a bad suggestion, but I also KNEW there was something wrong with me physically.So I went to a new doctor, who ran blood tests and found I was very deficient in B12 and D and that I was insulin resistant. Thank you, new doctor. Several supplements later and a daily medication and I’ve lost 25 lbs AND I feel much, much better.Oh, and I also went to therapy. And I quit my out-of-the-house job, and 1st-grade-from-Hell ended. Which isn’t to say all my stress is gone – I’m now homeschooling my son which has to be one of the most angry-making things I’ve ever done in my life, but at least I can do it from a place of health.And my husband and I aren’t getting divorced, as far as I know!So – what about you? Have you experienced any stress-related health issues? Did your doctor take you seriously? What else have you done to deal with the stress of parenting your ETL child?Adrienne Ehlert Bashista lives in central North Carolina with her husband and 2 boys, ages 8 and 11. Her interest in ADHD comes from parenting her youngest child, who has that diagnosis as well as a couple of other co-morbid conditions. Read more about entrepreneurship, writing, children’s books, and a bunch of other stuff at