Let's be honest for one minute. Being a parent is a full-time job. You are responsible for another person (or people); for their happiness and success. It is very easy to put your entire self into raising any child. From cooking and cleaning to play-dates, dance class and sport's practices -- you may forget that you are an individual, not just a parent. This discussion question hit very close to home for me, as this is something I struggle with daily. After all, I chose to become a parent. I even chose to do it three different times. It is, by far, one of the best decisions I have ever made, but I never knew what being a parent meant until I laced up my shoes and jumped in. Each child possess their own, very specific manual for operation; however, said manual is nowhere to be found, and don't worry because it changes daily. And, if you're like me, you've been blessed with a child who has special needs; a child who not only needs constant love and affection (as all children do), but who needs special therapies, special devices, special plans, special learning tools, extra help, extra time, and extra patience. Perhaps you have a child who needs you more than you ever thought possible, but whom you have a very hard time saying no to. I, personally, have an extremely difficult time putting myself before the needs of my children, but at the same time, I know I must do so because I am useless if I am too ill or frazzled to do anything at all.
Our Facebook page was buzzing with answers from our loyal followers when the following question was posted:
Bridget asked: As parents of special needs children, what do you do for yourself too ensure you are rested and able to give your all every day?
Kelly shared: I play roller derby! Great outlet of stress, great physical activity and at any given time I have a team of amazing women on my side!
Liz confessed: Nothing, nothing at all!
Jan said: I suppose it depends on the age of the child, etc. So, with a child who is attending school, make sure at some stage during that period you have 'me' time. Forget the housework, ironing, dishes etc and sit down for at least an hour to do the sewing/painting/reading which you enjoy. Or give yourself one day a week to do your own thing, which may be retail therapy or a craft class where you are out meeting with others. Others which are not in your 'special needs' circle. Also getting together with other with children with special needs is a good way to release the frustration/tiredness with others who understand what you are going through, rather then getting sympathy from well-meaning friends.
Chandra answered: I am not a parent, but a teacher of students with Autism. I exercise as much as I can, doing yoga and just started spinning.
Laura said: I play mindless games on my iPad... that is, when I can pry it out of my kids' hands. I also watch TV that has nothing to do with my life, like Masterpiece Theater. I used to read a ton, but now I fall asleep after 2-3 pages.
Shannon shared: I try to get out once a week with my husband. I work out with a friend who makes sure I go. And I co-sleep with one of our special needs children because he sleeps through the night that way and so do we. I also try to have moments just for me, even if I am doing laundry or going to the grocery store.
Jeannine answered: When the kids were little I would play computer games. I also wrote articles for a NASCAR website so I got to go to the races when they came to New Hampshire which gave me a huge release. How that the kids are older I treat myself to a manicure twice a month and a pedicure four times a year.
Bridget shared: I also try to make me time or date night with the hubby once a month yet I tend to feel guilty for doing it. Does anyone else feel that way?
Brandi said: 1} Babysitters! We have a few trusted ones that we alternate...And whether it breaks the bank or not I don't care, we try to schedule one at least once if not more a month and we even have a couple reliable nieces (good with diapers, meds and feeding etc) that will spend the night so we can make late night plans closer to when our kids go to bed (that way I worry less and can relax once I know they're asleep) and say out as late as we want with friends, have a drink or two, laugh, be silly as if we are still young - hahaha! It is worth every penny spent even if you have to scrape together those pennies! 2) My husband never objects to me making plans with my girl-friends on evenings when he can be home with kids and vice-versa - he plays weekly hockey later at night and goes out with the guys.
Karina shared: Healthy eating, exercise and plenty of reading up on new research. It gives me a coping mechanism and hope for my child's future. Like that saying: God grant me acceptance for that which I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference - or something like that! My husband is a great support too.
Kim said: Make sure I plan my meals. My brain doesn't work without food. My mantra is "the sky is blue", so even when things are really bad and dark, I know that there is some sun and something good will come. Helps me stay positive.
Trudy answered: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can can and the Wisdom to know the difference. I say that all the time too... lol and also have a great husband to take over when I'm burnt out. Babysitters to "play" with my son after school while I work at home. Computer games when all are sleeping!
Julian says: Extra sleep (when possible), good supplements and as much sunshine as possible. Reiki and a good counselor can be very useful too. And accept that no matter how hard I try, things will go backwards at times... still working on acceptance, it's a journey, let's be kind to ourselves.
Tina answered: You really need a couple of good babysitters so you can take a night off once in awhile or even a weekend here and there. Look into respite care.
Kerith says: Protect your bedroom space. My kids know it is sacred. They only come in if it is REALLY important AND time sensitive OR if they are invited (and we do have regular sleepovers when Dad is out-of-town on business).
Amy says: We sleep A LOT. We say "no" to some offers and invitations, so our schedule is not overcrowded/busy. And we stay involved with lots of other families like ours, so as not to feel isolated or sorry for ourselves! Once our son got a little older, we started trying to give back to new parents.
Cas replied: I don't know about rested, but I know that taking moments for me are important. So it might mean that after being on the go from 7 am until 10 pm, I sit down and spend some awake time doing stuff for myself, and end up waking tired, at least I'm not stressed from not having a break. I do rest thought, and am known to take 2-hour lunch breaks, and about once a month, I get a "mental health day" which is just a day that randomly free (from work, appointments and commitments) and I Carpe Diem!
Wonderful advice from our amazing fans. I've been feeling pretty off all week; random aches and pains and the wonderful allergies that come along with the change of season in the Northeast section of the USA. The handful of people that I chat with regularly have given me the same advise -- "you need to take care of yourself or else you will be no good to your children". My answer has been the same: I would love to, but when do I find the time?
So, instead, I got creative. It was clear that I needed to put my feet up and rest. I found a movie that the kids would love and rented it for $3.00. We all snuggled up under blankets, with plenty of toys on the floor for the baby, and settled in for a Charlie Brown Halloween special. I got to enjoy a hot cup of coffee and put my feet up, while the kids were still entertained by a classic. I made a very simple dinner that worked for all three diets and kept the evening as simple as possible. I relied on the Husband taking over when he arrived home an hour earlier than he usually does.
In the past, I've thrown picnic dinners on the living room floor or had mid-afternoon showers and baths, when I knew I'd be to tired for the evening. Sometimes we have breakfast for dinner, in our pajamas. I often browse Smart Apps for Special Needs and download a new app that will entertain the kids. I can't always get away, so I figure out how to do things for me, while still embracing my role as mom. I have wonderful friends who will spend the day with the kids and myself, providing extra hands and an adult to talk to.
The Husband gets home a bit before bed time on good nights and I will usually take a ten minute break to breathe. The Husband and I put the girls to bed together and then have our routine of watching DVRed shows and laughing and talking about our days. It's rejuvenating to put my feet up and watch grown-up television shows. We have video monitors on the kids and watch them quite closely, it's really nice being able to watch them, but still be by ourselves.
Writing, talking, sharing and laughing are all wonderful ways to work through the hard days. I am lucky to have family members and friends who listen and who love my children, as much as we do. I started a foundation with other moms in order to work and connect with other families, who are in similar situations to ours. We fundraise for research to find better treatments, thus giving back - it feels good to be working towards a change. I find if I'm doing something, if I'm engaged in a project, or if I'm working towards attainable goals, my entire mindset is positive and I'm a better parent because of it.
What do you do for yourself? Please share in the comments below.
Amanda cherishes each minute with her kids, but realizes that she needs to take care of herself too.