5 Ways to Care of Yourself When You Parent a Child With a Disability
Being the parent of a child with a disability can be exhausting. Not just in the sense of caring for the child, but also in the sense of worry, anxiety, depression, and not knowing what the future holds by rethinking the day and feeling guilty for all the things we didn’t do correctly or forgot to do but should’ve. Our brains and bodies may never truly be at rest. We spend multiple days in the car driving from this therapy to that one, this appointment to the next. Our kids usually have several specialists and therapists and each one will have their own orders of what we need to do for our child. We spent a large amount of our time trying to do what each one suggests and spend most of our time, energy and money to ensure our kids have what they need in order to succeed. We are daily trying to maintain patience with life and keep ourselves going, even when we feel like we can’t. That is the life of a parent.
So how can we combat this mental, physical, and emotional fatigue?
1. Find your people.
Finding people with a life like our own means meeting people who just “get it.” Those are our people, those are the people who help us process. This does not count out our friends who do not have children with disabilities, not at all. We love all of our friends and we are so thankful for each and every one, but there is something about finding someone who understands exactly what we go through each day.
2. Take care of the caregiver.
We are always parents, always, but we are also caregivers 24/7. Occasionally, we need to take a day to be with our friends, our people, or just by ourselves. We need to take a day to relax or have fun and that does not… I’ll repeat, does not, make you a bad parent. It makes you a better one. If we do not take care of ourselves, how can we take care of our kids? Our kids need us to be the best us that we can be and that takes ensuring that we are healthy physically, mentally and emotionally. So if that means taking a couple of hours to get a pedicure, get your hair done, or just take a nap to make you a better parent, then do it. And lose the mom (parent) guilt over it.
3. Don’t ignore symptoms.
Feeling blue? Crying a lot? Loss of interest in things you once loved? Changes in health? Don’t ignore any symptoms that aren’t symptoms that you wouldn’t normally have. See your doctor, we are always taking our kids to their doctors but we have to make sure we are healthy, too. This falls into the taking care of the caregiver category as well.
4. Be a couple.
If you are in a relationship or married, take time to be a couple. In families with additional needs, marriages can struggle. I know that getting a date night is easier said that done in most cases. Many times we can’t find babysitters to be able to go out. But we need to get creative. After kids are asleep have a Netflix date night, have an outdoor picnic in the back yard (take a baby monitor if necessary), play a card game together, just anything that allows you to spend time together just the two of you.
5. Remembering our children are children first.
This will help us so much in the mental and emotional area! Our kids have disabilities, we can’t change that, but with all things they need, all the medical appointments and the therapies they have, can all be exhausting for them as well. We all have to remember to let them be kids, let them have a day for themselves as well. Surprisingly, it will be beneficial for us as well to see them being a kid. Often we get caught up in what we need to do and what they need to do, that we sometimes forget things they want to do. It can stress both, us as parents and our children. See a movie, play pat-a-cake, do arts and crafts, whatever our little one wants we need to try and do it with them. We need to give them as normal of a childhood as we possibly can. For myself, sometimes I get so caught up in my own thoughts of having my son ready for adulthood that I forget right now he’s still living his childhood. I know for myself, when I see my child with autism having fun and being a kid, I gain the sight of my child, who is a happy child, which in turn makes me happy.
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