My Mental Health as a Parent of a Child With a Disability
Parenting is a challenge. No matter how many happy photos we post online, we all know that somehow, somewhere, each of us is struggling with one aspect of child rearing or another. It may just be a temporary struggle, but everyone has their problems. It’s the reality of parenting.
Parenting a child with a disability certainly elevates that challenge.
My son’s disabilities keep me on high alert, all the time. There is not a moment where I am not thinking about him or something related to him. Add in all of the typical frazzled-mom thoughts that run through our heads on a daily basis, and you get something like this:
Is he safe?
Is he feeling like he’s understood?
Did I reschedulethe dentist appointments?
Is he behaving at school?
I really need to stop eating my feelings.
Am I doing enough to advocate for him?
Did I take something out of the freezer for dinner?
Where did I put that paperwork?
I need to clear off some of the photos on my phone.
Should I request another meeting?
What can I do to make my other kids feel valued and important?
Is he ever going to sleep in his bedroom again?
What day is it?
I really hope nobody understood that swear word he just dropped at the grocery store.
Often, these thoughts are rapid and storm through all at once, in the span of a couple of minutes. It can make my head spin. But, after 13 years, I’ve become used to running at a high stress-level, all the time. I can usually keep up with it, but every now and then it becomes apparent that by dealing with all of the added stress of parenting a child with a disability, my own mental health takes a beating.
I am tired, I am frustrated with the issues that aren’t being resolved quickly enough, and I put myself last on the long list of items that need my attention. Emails pile up, weight is gained (because eating cupcakes is more fun than actually processing feelings), relationships fall to the wayside. Realizing these consequences adds to the stress that has already accumulated, creating an awful cycle of “yuck.”
Mothers typically aren’t great at putting their own needs ahead of their kids’, and from my observations, that is even truer in the disability community. There is just too much work to do, so we just keep on going. I know I need a break, though. I know I need more help in order to get that break. But putting forth the effort to make that change is almost too much to add to my list, so I just deal with it. With more cupcakes, of course. Obviously, that is not the solution, not even a short-term one. Eventually, I need to slow down and address my own issues in order to become the parent that most people might already think I am. I need to learn to breathe, relax, and finish books I start then put away because something else is jockeying for my attention. I need to rediscover the activities I enjoyed before I was tasked with the awesome responsibility that is parenting a child with a disability. I need to take care of myself.
Until then, I will keep posting those happy photos online, not because I want to mislead anyone, but because they bring me joy on the days when I don’t have time to do anything else for myself. I am a work in progress, just like everyone else.
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Thinkstock image by bruniewska