5 Tips on Being Good to Yourself, From One Special Needs Parent to Another
Lately, it seems self-care has become a buzzword. We all realize its necessity and purpose. But we also need the mindfulness to know what it looks like for our unique situation. To know what it looks like for you, you’ve got to slow down long enough to know yourself.
My self-care has changed drastically since having a second child four years ago. What worked and made me happy then doesn’t fit the bill today. What was once enjoyable — window shopping or maybe a spontaneous trip to a theme park — literally makes me cringe when I think about it today. I’m a greatly variable entity and, chances are, so are you. So stop right now and ask yourself, “Who am I?” You might be surprised at what you find.
Once you know who you are and what’s most important to you, explore your self-care options. Hint: If you don’t enjoy it, it probably doesn’t count as self-care. Other than that, there are few rules in this area. Your budget, whether and how often you are able to find trusted care for your children, your time constraints, your work schedule — all these things are factors, but ultimately, you choose.
Still balking at the whole self-care phenomena? Here are a few tips to send you in the right direction:
1. Self-care doesn’t have to cost money.
We run a family budget so tight, it squeaks. Frankly, spending cash on myself when I know it’s straining our budget elsewhere doesn’t relax me. Other than an occasional McDonald’s latte or trip to the local discount store for a dollar bottle of nail polish or lipgloss, I tend to steer clear from self-care that costs money.
Some argue that errands aren’t self-care. But for a mom who has a child with autism and has been through a grocery meltdown, I can say with confidence that a grocery trip made alone with a coffee in hand can feel like total liberation. Whether you choose to leave the house or stay in, being good to yourself doesn’t have to strain your budget.
2. Self-care can happen at home.
I’m not good at leaving my kids. The only people who have ever babysat for us are immediate family members, and this only happens two or three times a year. As much I’d love to go out with my husband or even alone, sometimes it’s just not worth the stress. More often than not, daily self-care for me is getting to do my nails without interruption or sitting down to eat my dinner before calling the kids to eat. That may sound grossly simple, but you’d be surprised how relaxing it can be to sit and eat an entire meal without having to assist someone, cut up food, clean up spills and run for extra napkins half a dozen times before sitting down to your own (now cold) plate.
3. Self-care is not selfish.
Becoming a parent doesn’t exclude you from anxiety, depression, stress or frustration. You’ll get angry with your children, your spouse and yourself. You’ll feel overwhelmed and under-assisted. More than once. You’ll feel no one in the entire world understands just how exacting and tireless the demands on your life can be. This is normal. In fact, I would raise an eyebrow at anyone who claims to have never felt this way.
Self-care is necessary for your mental, physical and emotional well-being. It’s not selfish to take a soaking hot bath when you’ve been carrying a colicky infant for more than 6 hours a day to lessen their screaming. It’s not selfish to send your wild and sugar-hyped kids outside to play so you can read a chapter of your book in the quiet.
4. Special needs parents’ self-care may not look like self-care at all.
Getting groceries alone? Sitting down to eat dinner? Painting your nails? Getting a three-dollar coffee? Yes, I realize these probably don’t count as self-care to some people. I know a few parents with typical children who have their kids go to the grandparents for the weekend, go out for drinks after bedtime or get massages with their girlfriends. That’s great. This is self-care. More power to them!
For me (and many of the special needs parents I know), these things aren’t always, if ever, possible. My child’s anxiety won’t allow them a sleepover with Grandma. For some, maybe respite care can’t come past 9 pm. Maybe they’ve had to pay co-pays and buy therapy equipment, and there’s just no money left for a deep-tissue massage (no matter how badly they could use it). Self-care is unique to the individual. Just remember to respect what it might look like for others.
5. Self-care can mean relationship care.
This one is for all types of relationships: spousal, significant other, mother, father, sister, brother, etc. I talk. A lot. My husband does not. But he understands my need for verbal expression and listens and talks to me. He encourages me and validates my capability. It’s extremely likely he’s on the autism spectrum and verbal communication is not his favorite. I feel privileged and valued when he takes the time to talk with me.
In turn, I try to communicate his way. I make an effort to do things that may not be priority for me, but matter to him. Most importantly, I do them not out of a sense of duty or obligation, but out of respect, caring and love. I want to build him up and validate his capability as he does mine. We are individuals with many differences, and we make a point to highlight the good in each other. Take advantage of your support system, whatever form it may come in. These people love you. Let them. And return the favor.
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