The Greatest Gift of All

May 03, 2024

With Christmas just around the corner, I want to address something that can’t be wrapped in a bow or purchased online.

person showing brown gift box
Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

As I see it, prioritizing our own health and well-being is one of the greatest gifts parents can give our children. This is especially important if we care for a child with disabilities, since research shows the stress of caregiving often negatively effects our physical, emotional, and mental health.

In today’s newsletter, I want to encourage readers to make time for yourselves and focus on getting and staying healthy, especially if this is hard for you to do. Please read on and keep an open mind. This really is important.

As the mother of three grown “kids” in their 20s, I wish I’d started sooner to form good habits and pay closer attention to this aspect of parenting. Sure, I stayed active and busy — but I didn’t prioritize cardiovascular exercise like I should have. And I treated sleep like a “nice to have,” rather than something that should be preserved and protected. I focused on doing everything instead of figuring out how to “get it done” with the help of others. I tried to pretend it was easy. Maybe you do, too.

Thankfully, it’s never too late to change our behavior. So here’s some encouragement to help you do so. 

Peter Attia, M.D. and author of the book, Outlive, urges us to pay attention to the role that nutrition, exercise, and sleep play in the quality and quantity of our lives. Even if you’re “starting from scratch” to care about these things, he says, you can take small steps that produce big results. That’s especially good news for parents of complex and/or time-consuming kids.

I used to prioritize nutrition over everything else, but I now consider exercise to be the most potent longevity “drug” in our arsenal, in terms of lifespan and healthspan. The data are unambiguous: exercise not only delays actual death but also prevents both cognitive and physical decline, better than any other intervention. We also tend to feel better when we exercise, so it probably has some harder-to-measure effect on emotional health as well.

—Peter Attia, M.D.

Why does this matter to me now?

For starters, I feel myself getting older. And after schlepping through New York City last weekend with our adult son and his very heavy wheelchair, I’m very aware that it’s getting harder for me to schlep. I want to keep doing it for a long time to come, though, and Andrew’s mobility challenges actually require that of us as parents. Physical and mental fitness are not optional. So how do we achieve this?

We can start by setting simple goals and developing routines to help achieve them. (Please don’t confuse this with New Year’s resolutions, which I despise.) For me, this means getting my heart rate up a few more times a week than I currently do and getting to bed earlier whenever I can. Both are easier to accomplish now that our adult kids don’t live at home; however, even parents of young children can prioritize these things…as can parents of adult kids with disabilities.

Can you and your daughter/son take a walk or run together periodically? Can you arrange for help with your caregiving responsibilities so “breaking a sweat” is something you do more regularly instead of just dream about doing? Can you turn off technology in advance of bedtime to help quiet your mind and body? Can you imagine how good it will feel to sleep more soundly, exercise more effortlessly, and maybe even reduce the things on your “must do” list?

I still plan to enjoy too many Christmas cookies this month, but I’m also excited to commit to a few new habits that will help contribute to a peaceful, healthy, and fulfilling new year. Living longer and better is worth working for, don’t you think?

Wishing you a rewarding end to 2023 –- and a great start to the coming year. As always, thanks for being here.

Balancing needs.

My new book, Embracing Another Normal, addresses the challenge of balancing the needs of our children with our own physical needs, along with more emotional needs for things like peace and serenity Here’s a brief excerpt:

Like many women my age, I was raised to see productivity as my purpose. I was taught that I should judge my days by what I accomplish. For most of my life, spending time attending to my own personal needs seemed indulgent, if not altogether wrong. Like you perhaps, I find it hard to juggle what I know I should do and what I generally feel must get done. It’s a neverending story that continues to perplex me and many of the parents interviewed for this book. But why?

The real question is: why not? When was the last time you saw someone praised for getting out of the way or for putting their own needs ahead of others? Society rewards us for sacrificing. But as noted philosopher and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh reminded us, “We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.”


Simplicity is a gift. Quiet is a gift. Time is a gift. As I get older, I find that I treasure these gifts more than any others, because they are precious and rare and make me the happiest.

Laura McKenna, Substack writer, mother, and so much more

A special gift for you.

In the spirit of gift-giving, click on the link below to download my favorite book recommendations for the new year.

Interested in learning more about one-to-one coaching? Contact Kris for information on what this might look like for you, including outcomes, availability, fees and more.

Contact Kris

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