Written by Chisato Hotta, DSW, LPCC, LMFT
(Originally published on Autism Advocate Parenting Magazine, September 2022 issue)
When my twin boys were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, my husband and I agreed that we would do everything in our power to help them reach their potential and to become the best adults they could be. We weren’t sure what that would mean for the boys, but we were committed to supporting them and helping them grow.
In 2019, my husband decided to go back to school. He enrolled in a master’s program in statistics at California State University Long Beach. He wanted to show the boys the importance of setting goals and working towards them. He worked very hard at balancing school, a part-time job, and family life. At that time, I was working two jobs and decided it was important for me to also focus on my education. As a result, I enrolled in a doctorate of social work program at the University of Southern California.
To add to our chaos, we suffered a great loss in December 2020. A person who was a key part of our support system passed away suddenly. We had to switch gears. Yuki found a full-time job and continued his studies, while I found a more flexible full time job. We did all of this while grieving.
Life can be hard. Trying to balance work, home, our relationship, the boys and everything else, stretched us to our limits. As a licensed marriage and family therapist and a professional clinical counselor, I know all about the importance of self-care and balance. I don’t just teach others about these topics, I also try to practice them in my own life. Here are some things that my husband and I do in order to find that balance.
Take time for yourself. Both my husband and I take time to exercise every day. We take turns leaving the house to go biking or walking. We make time to reset and ground ourselves.
Breathe. It is important to pay attention to our breath. Is my breathing shallow, fast, slow or deep? Am I breathing from my chest or my stomach? I also set aside a few minutes to sit and take some deep, mindful breaths. After placing one hand on my stomach and one hand on my chest, I concentrate on breathing in for four seconds, holding it there for three seconds and breathing out for six seconds. As I do so, I move my bottom hand and keep my top hand as still as possible.
Sing! When I notice myself getting flustered or annoyed, I sing instead of yelling at the boys. It can be a song that I like, or even one that I’ve made up. For example, I could sing “The boys are about to get in trouble, trouble, trouble; the boys are about to get in trouble…” The boys often take over at this point and sing something like, “no, no, no” or “I don’t want to get in trouble, trouble, trouble…” I usually end up laughing.
Laugh. I know this is hard to do when you are overwhelmed. I try to find funny videos, even if they are just short clips, or talk to people who are funny. I will also laugh at my own mistakes. Practice gratitude. I start every day by thinking of three things that I am grateful for. They can be small or big things, like sunshine, my purring cats, the boys’ laughter, or the gift of another day.
Practice mindfulness. It can be easy to think of all of the things that we have planned for today or for the next week, month or year. However, this tends to take away from the here and now. Many times, planning and worrying about those things can be a source of stress. I try to focus on what is happening right now, in this moment. What am I feeling right now? If that is hard to figure out, I do five senses meditation. I look around the room and quickly name five colors that I see, four things that I hear, three things that I feel on my body, two things that I smell, and one thing that I taste.
Spend time with your partner. If you have a partner, spend time together as partners, not just as parents. After the boys have gone to bed, my husband and I have dinner together and compare notes on the high points and the low points of the day. It helps to just check in with each other and to look at the good and bad together. We also make a point of not talking about the boys when we spend time together. It is too easy to get swept up into just being parents. While it is an important role, it is not our only role in life. Encourage and grow those other parts too.
Learn how to say “no.” I used to say “yes” to everything. I noticed that when I did that, however, there was a cost to me and to my family. I could not help my boys and my family if I was tired and burned out. I learned to consider my own interests, and those of my family, before responding to any request. I would reflect on whether I wanted to do what was asked of me, and if the request was realistic. Would I find something in this activity that I would like or love? If the answer was “no,” then my response would be in the negative. On the other hand, if I did agree to the request, I would find a way to set some realistic boundaries.
While there are many other things that we do as a family, these steps are a good place to start. Doing the little things every day that help us find balance moves us toward being whole. Each one of us is important, and it can be so easy to forget that. Balance is key.
Chisato Hotta, DSW, LPCC, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed professional clinical counselor and a doctor in social work. Dr. Hotta currently is a senior program supervisor at a mental health non-profit where she is able to support the amazing program directors, supervisors, clinicians and more. Dr. Hotta also works part time as an adjunct professor, therapist, and a consultant for a collaborative court program. She also gives trainings on mental health, autism, commercial sexual exploitation of children and more. Her husband, Yuki, has a master’s degree in statistics and is an associate risk and data analyst. Dr. Hotta is also a mom to twin boys who are both on the autism spectrum and are her world and light. She tries to blend being a mental health provider and being a mama in her lnstagram and Facebook.