Why I Believe Self-Care Is Key When You Parent Kids With Disabilities

I truly believe that self-care is so, so important. It is especially important when you have a child with disabilities. Actually, it’s not just important — it’s absolutely necessary.

First, though, let’s begin with the basics: what is self-care?

Yeah, yeah, I know the word itself is pretty self-explanatory. It is caring for oneself. Self-care is something I did in the past, but it wasn’t until my first son was born with a disability that I really became aware of what it is, how often I was doing it, and what happened when I was lacking it. In other words, it wasn’t until my son was born that I began this serious relationship with self-care.

I see self-care as being made up of two main categories: what I call “boring self-care,” and “fun self-care.”

Boring self-care are the acts of self-care we do that we often don’t think about, like taking our prescribed medications, eating regular meals, getting enough sleep, showering, etc. They are the acts of self-care that nourish our bodies. By doing so, we are then able to perform acts of “fun” self-care — things that nourish our souls. For me, that means vegging out to reality TV, scrapbooking, crafting, listening to music, reading or writing. For you, that may mean getting together with family or friends, or engaging in a hobby or passion.

Self-care looks different for different people.

I also believe “fun” self-care is dependent on us engaging in “boring” self-care. In other words, it is difficult to nourish your soul when you haven’t even nourished your body.

I also believe the amount of self-care a person requires to stay sane, happy and healthy depends a lot on the amount of stress they deal with on an every day basis. As far as parents of kids with disabilities, we face much more stress than the average parent, so, more often than not, it is going to take larger amounts of self-care and more frequently than most people to keep us mentally and emotionally healthy.

That being said, it is important to remember that each one of us holds a different threshold for stress, and, therefore, require a different amount of self-care to stay healthy and happy. This is completely normal. Do not compare the amount you need to someone else or think that the amount you need is, in any way, a reflection of your self-worth.

It took me a while to learn this lesson. For the longest time I looked at other moms of kids with disabilities and thought, wow, they have so much on their plate — so much more than me — and they never get time to themselves and they are doing fine. Yet, if I don’t get at least 3+ hours to myself at night, every night, I feel like the world is ending. I must not be able to handle stress very well. I must not be very strong. I must not ….

The list would go on and on. It was always a slippery slope that led me to feeling broken and bad about myself, when, really, it all boils down to this: people have different thresholds for stress and need different amounts (and forms) of self-care to manage that stress. Don’t compare yourself to others. Instead, only focus on yourself and do what works for you.

That brings me back to the why. Why is it important? Self-care is what keeps us healthy — mentally, emotionally, and physically.  And it is always necessary for taking care of others, which is essential as a parent of kids with disabilities (or any caregiver). As the saying goes, “you cannot fill others from an empty cup.” You cannot be the parent you want to be to your child if you do not take the time to take care of yourself first. In other words, practicing self-care is great for you, and for the people around you.

Not only this, but, quite frankly, you deserve it. You deserve time where you aren’t “mom” or “dad,” where you aren’t taking care of anyone else’s needs but your own. You deserve time to yourself, to spend that time doing whatever it is that makes you happy and nourishes your soul. Life is too short to not spend as much of it as you can doing what makes you happy.

On that note . . . I know that taking time to care for ourselves is easier said than done — especially if you are a parent to a kiddo who requires full-time, around-the-clock care. I get it, I totally do. And I’m not going to lie and say that it is easy, although one would think that taking care of ourselves and taking time to do things we find enjoyable would come easily and naturally to us. Often times, we spend so much of our time taking care of others that we program ourselves to always be putting others before ourselves. When someone suggests we do something for ourselves, it’s as if they are speaking in a foreign language to us. Our brains simply don’t process this.

Make your brain process it. And then do it. However you have to. Whether that means you have to schedule it in your planner or write it on your to-do list. Whether that means you have to ask someone to watch your child for a couple hours (or a couple days –hey, we can dream), or you have to inquire about in-home nursing/respite care, or you have to learn to let some of the housework go for tonight (trust me, it isn’t going anywhere). It can be hard to get past these barriers to allow us some time to ourselves…but listen to me when I say it is worth it.

You are worth it.

Follow this journey at All Things Considered.

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