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Is self-care possible in special needs parenting?

I spoke at a conference recently and one of the questions during the Q & A from an attendee was “What do you do – if anything – for yourself?” It’s true. I have an intense, busy life and from the outside, it seems nearly impossible to practice self-care because of the medical, educational, social and emotional needs of my children.

Even with an intense life, it’s possible to do some sort of self-care. I replied back to the question, excited, because I’ve used a phrase since a therapist asked me why I wouldn’t give up volunteering because of all of the responsibilities I had in my marriage, with my children and in my home. I replied then, and still today the same answer: “I’m not willing to give up what I want to do because of what I have to do.”

The therapist thought for a second and said, “Huh. Good point.” Since then I’ve held tightly on to those words when my parental/home/marriage responsibilities merge with my passions and interests and it appears something has got to give. I think it’s fair to say, for me anyway, self-care hasn’t always been easy for me. Somewhere along the way in our 14-year special needs parenting gig, I realized I’d have to make time for myself and given my life, I’d have to get creative. Aggressive even.

What did I do? What do I continue to do?

self care

I started to ask for help and the more I asked, the easier it got and the more I asked. I started small… a movie. I started making time to sew and craftI was vigilant about making time for dates with the husband and friends. This past December I started walking on a treadmill regularly and I’m still at it seven months later.

When you know you need to practice self-care it isn’t always easy to make it a reality. It takes dedication, hard work and creativity. But you can do it. You really can.

  • Ask for help. Ask for help. Did I say you should ask for help?
  • Lower your standards where possible. A few times a week we eat on paper plates. One night a week we eat out. Our house isn’t as clean as it once was, or where I thought it was acceptable anyway and so I let that slide. I spend less time worrying about the house than I used to and I selfishly figure out how I can get out of the house.
  • It’s okay to be selfish. Really. It is.
  • If your life is intense and you cannot leave your child/children, why not have someone come when you are home? Having someone there could give you a chance for a bath (alone!), a nap, or to do something you enjoy like baking, reading, writing, working on a puzzle or crafting of some sort.
  • When the house is quiet and the kids are asleep, take some time for yourself and do something for you. Something that makes you happy. Something that relaxes you.
  • If you’re partnered up, talk about how you can work this out as a couple, a family. You’re in it together.
  • Don’t let anyone tell you what you “should” be doing to relax. Cleaning and organizing sometimes is what makes me happy so I find doing that relaxing.
  • Be committed to something for yourself. Not unlike the hundreds of goals our kids have to meet over their young lives, we should have goals of self-care. We should treat time for ourselves as important as doctor appointments, speech, occupational and physical therapy. It could be a weekly/bi-weekly mani/pedi, read a book a month/join a book club, take a lesson/attend a class, see a movie/have dinner once a month with a friend. Have a date night regularly if you’re coupled. Have more sex..that can improve your outlook a lot, I promise.
  • Ask your friends and family members for support, in whatever way that means to you. They can help you with the kid/s, errands, join you in an activity or be some kind of accountability partner! The people who love you want you to be happy and focus on you a bit, I’m sure of it.
  • Don’t put you on the backburner. It literally does no one good, most importantly you.

Be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. Get over the need to do everything perfectly, or just everything for that matter. I’d venture to say most of you can find time for yourself, so I encourage you to do it and not feel guilty about it. Self -care in special needs parenting is possible. You only have to make it happen, much like you handle everything else that is a challenge in your life.

You can do it. Please, do it.


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