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Why Self-Care Looks Different When Parenting a Child With Disabilities

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Self-care! Please tell me I am not the only parent who has laughed or cried over that phrase.

Well-meaning people have so many ideas of what self-care looks like. It usually is something that involves time, and not just time, but time alone! That is not an easy task for those of us who are primary caregivers to people with disabilities.

What exactly are we supposed to give up to get away and take care of ourselves? Therapy? Appointments? IEP meetings? Real talk: most of the time if I have an extra few minutes, I just want to sleep.

Well, guess what? We can define our own self-care routines! It isn’t wrong to go to the spa, or the fitness center, or have dinner out with friends, but I don’t have to do those exact things to take care of myself. I just need to do anything that recharges my batteries.

I am going to share a few self-care activities that work for me, but I strongly encourage everyone reading to find what works for you — there are no wrong answers!

  • Listening to podcasts. This is my newest self-care routine and I am loving it! I can do this while driving, cleaning, dressing kids, cooking dinner. I don’t need any extra time at all. But I find that especially when I listen to podcasts related to topics that are big in my life (such as parenting children with disabilities or any of my other interests — even things related to my career, which is currently on hold), it makes me feel seen, or transports me to another place. I can laugh or cry or simply be entertained — and I don’t have to adjust my routine at all!
  • Walks. Last week a therapist for one of my older children asked me if I wanted to take a walk during his therapy so that I could have some “me time,” and I think my jaw dropped to the floor. This had never crossed my mind. So I walked. I just walked! I had nowhere to be (for about an hour) and nothing to do and I just walked around the town by myself. It was glorious! I have since been walking almost every day, even if it is just around the block, and yes, even if it means putting a child in the stroller and bringing him with me.
  • Make friends. Within the past month, I have reached out more to local moms who get it, either over the phone or in person. I love my internet friends, but there is something different about connecting with local people who get it, even over the phone! There is a special bond. We are going to the same hospitals, same schools, same stores — there is a special level of understanding there.
  • Sleep. Yep, I said it! It is totally OK to use sleep as a self-care method. If you are anything like me, you are up all night for alarms, feedings, belly aches, worries, whatever it may be — and sometimes sleep is the best kind of self-care!
  • Order a pizza. Last night my husband called on the way home from work and said, “do you need a break tonight? I can bring home pizza.” I actually did not, but sometimes I do! It is perfectly OK to skip an activity, a therapy, order dinner out, send Oreo cookies to the youth group cookie exchange, put money in a card instead of buying a gift or anything else that makes life easier.

So find what works for you. Find something that makes you feel rested, seen, recharged, and do it! It can absolutely be a typical self-care activity, but it is also OK to redefine self-care to something that fits in our lives.

Originally published: March 16, 2022
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