“As special needs parents we don’t have the power to make life “fair,” but we do have the power to make life joyful.” Unknown
Continuing with the theme of self-care for parents of children with special needs, I want to emphasize how important filling one’s cup is as a parent. When our cups are full, then we have more to give, which inevitably will be necessary with the added demands of raising a child with special needs. Whether your child has mild learning challenges or is saddled with a life-threatening illness, parents of children with special needs can face an exponentially more exhausting journey of child-rearing than what they had anticipated. Exhaustion and stress can lead to burn-out, depression, and anxiety. However, there are many pathways to keeping one’s serotonin tank full, and that trailhead sign reads “Fierce Self-Care Ahead.”
Following up on the first article I wrote in a two part series, the following are additional tips and suggestions for parents and caregivers who work tirelessly and determinedly to support their children in manifesting their greatest potentials:
*Sometimes we can’t control the circumstances, as much as we may advocate for certain services or interventions. If one door is closed, it’s imperative not to give up and to, instead, steadfastly journey on with a “can do” attitude. It is easy to succumb to anger and resentment at situations that seem unfair and that really are out of our control or our child’s control. There is always a different angle to view the situation and an alternative solution that may be even better than the original plan.
*Gather your social support network of special needs parents, advisors, therapists, life coaches, helping professionals, family and friends. Lean on these positive, affirming, helpful people when you need validation, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to laugh with and share an accomplishment, a suggestion from a helping professional about additional (or less) services for your child.
*Find an outlet to express held tension and stress. For many, that’s exercise, yoga, deep breathing, knitting, painting, playing a musical instrument, cooking, playing contact sports, writing, journaling, etc. Releasing stress is essential for optimal mental and physical health.
*Be ok with saying “no” to added burdens or obligations. It is enough to suit up for life, function, provide for your family, and nurture them. Sometimes adding one more event on the calendar is just too much. People who really understand how stretched you are will get it. And they will understand when you have to cancel last minute because your child has an urgent doctor appointment. If those friends don’t get it and aren’t showing empathy, then it’s time to reconsider if they belong in your circle of support.
*Just because one parent home-schools her child and only cooks gluten-free, organic, non GMO, farm fresh food for her child does not mean that you need to compete/absorb shame or blame/replicate another person’s pathway to wellness. Authentic social support may suggest alternative ideas to help enhance wellness (like good nutrition, sensory play, etc) but will do so only when you ask, and without judgment or blaming/shaming. You are doing the very best you can to keep your own head above water. Don’t absorb other people’s negative projections.
*Avoid self-medicating with alcohol or other substances that can be potentially addictive or bad for your health. If you feel you are numbing your stress with food, alcohol, drugs, etc., then it’s time to talk with a qualified mental health professional who can help you choose healthy habits to enhance mental and physical health.
*If you are teaching your child(ren) empathy, tolerance, reciprocity, compassion, authenticity, integrity, and compromise, you have already done your job in this lifetime to 1) make the planet and world a better place and 2) to gift the world with your child’s emotional intelligence which will serve him well for the entirety of his life. Give yourself credit for being an amazing parent. Just by loving and nurturing your child unconditionally, your child learns resilience, fortitude, endurance, determination, confidence, and a “can do” attitude and drive of perseverance. Who wouldn’t want to be around a person with such a gift of insight and joy? Isn’t that what life is all about?
Photo by judacoregio