The Importance of Self Care for Parents of Special Needs Children
As parents, our days are most often focused on serving our family. Keeping track of schedules, providing emotional support and nourishing bodies. When we find ourselves in the role of a special needs parent, there are some inherent added responsibilities that often leave us feeling like a caregiver, therapist and advocate, more so than peers of typical children.
This added weight can lead to a faster burnout and heavier parenting experience. It’s so important that we understand the need for self-care and all the different definitions of it.
My self-care realization
I remember in early motherhood, when I was fresh to the world of special needs, there was a lot of conversation around never leaving your child. 12 months and we’ve never been apart. 3 years strong, she’s never been away from me! We were all first-time moms, newly introduced to mom culture, with zero experience and the rosiest of rose-colored glasses. It took me 18 months and, if I’m honest, a couple more babies to put down the mom guilt brought on by these unrealistic expectations to never separate myself from this one side of me.
Now that I have more children, more wisdom and independence, I realize that self-care begins when I allow some separation to take place between my role and responsibilities as a mother and caregiver and who I am as an individual. This separation allows us to ask, “What do I need to be my best self?” When we do this and act on fulfilling these needs, we become better and more accessible to our family.
What is self-care — really?
So what is self-care? It can be a lot of things. The cliché around self-care is usually a bubble bath and massage or hiring help with the laundry. But the truth is, self-care can take many different forms. It can be speaking up to your partner about sharing responsibilities you feel bogged down by, or it can be a night or weekend away. Our self-care is influenced by our seasons in motherhood. Whether it be limitations on your time or access to support, you can find ways to care for yourself.
Making sure you’re allowing yourself to pursue self-care in the way you need it is beyond important. As special needs parents who deal with very high-stress circumstances, such as medically complex children, demanding behavior or physically demanding support of your little one, it can become dangerous if we neglect ourselves.
Our decision-making can be challenged, our relationships can falter and our ability to care for others can become compromised.
4 things you can do right now to make room for self-care
- Make respite a reality. I find that shifting my mind from “Wouldn’t it be nice to have 10 minutes of quiet?” to “I’ll make space in my schedule today to have 10 minutes of quiet,” really helps me. Instead of putting it on the “nice to have” list, it’s on my schedule and I work with my husband and support team to make it happen.
- Take brutal personal inventory. How do you feel? What are your major pain points? Where are you struggling most? Maybe your muscles are horribly tense, and a massage would actually be best for you. Maybe you just feel mentally drained and crave a good Netflix binge. Just take stock and see what feels best to help you address those areas where you’re struggling.
- Next, make realistic plans. What is in your control to schedule? What do you have access to in terms of support? If money is an issue, is there something you can give up for the month to help make your self-care needs a priority? Do you have respite support via your local disability support groups? This will help you see the holes in your budget, schedule, and supports to make sure self-care happens.
- Take action with zero guilt! Once you’ve done the work to plan for your self-care, you can enjoy it. I promise you, this will get easier. Feeling good about your self-care is where many of the benefits come from, so do what you need to do to feel good about this time.
Make your own self-care routine
My last thought is this: Don’t think that self-care has to be a huge production. It doesn’t have to cost a ton of money, take a ton of time, or stress out your partner or your support system. It can be a simple joy like a cup of coffee or it can be sending laundry out to be washed and folded. You deserve the help and time away from your role, but you can take the time and action that feels good to you.
I’d also recommend scheduling in your self-care, as this makes it more likely to happen. We make space for what matters, and you matter! If you want to start scheduling in self-care without worrying about overlapping schedules or missed therapy appointments, you can always use the Glory Days Co. planner.
It’s designed for families of special needs to make sure that everyone in the family gets the care they need and deserve. Our planner starts each day with asking you, “How are you feeling?” This is a great place to start tracking your feelings and when self-care is something you need to make a priority.