“Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that he is exactly the person he is supposed to be and that, if you’re lucky, he just might be the teacher who turns you into the person you are supposed to be.” ~ Joan Ryan
(This is Part 2 in a 2 Part Series)
In my previous post, I began to describe some tips for parents who are in the trenches of navigating the world of special needs caregiving. The following is a continuation of the topic, in the hopes that it provides a bit of a life raft for you amazing caregivers out there. Here goes:
6) Schedule time for you and your partner to revisit the *spark* before you became parents. It’s so important to nurture that bond, as the foundation of your family. Studies show that special needs parents have a much higher divorce rate than the general population (Namkung, 2015). Therefore, it is that vital to fill your romance account with steady and ample deposits of affirmations, quality time together, physical and emotional intimacy, acts of service, and heartfelt gestures (Chapman, 2015). Easier said than done, but not impossible. Necessary. Do it. You won’t regret it. If you are a single parent, all the more important to enlist the help of your support team (family, friends, neighbors, service providers, etc).
7) Make time for your neurotypical child(ren). Studies also show that siblings of special needs children are more at risk for depression and anxiety if they do not have the necessary supports in place to manage any stressors as a sibling of a special needs child (Milevsky, 2014). Although having a special needs can be an opportunity to develop greater capacity for empathy and compassion, there can be challenges with the neurotypical sibling(s) feeling brushed aside or finding themselves in the role of the parentified child. With love and attention from parents, as well as access to sibling support groups and psychotherapy, special needs siblings can adjust and transcend adverse circumstances just fine.
8) Self compassion and good enough parenting. I said it once, and I will say it again: The need for self care and self compassion is even that much more important than the general population (not to belittle or minimize someone else’s struggle). But seriously: you need good sleep hygiene, good nutrition, exercise and affirming social supports to stay out of depression/anxiety/trauma. See also my recent article on self-care and self-compassion and see if you can incorporate any of those suggestions or add to the list.
9) Hire a parent advocate or special needs counselor to advise you on how to navigate the world of IEPs and special education. It can be daunting and exhausting to perpetually know your rights as a parent and simultaneously advocate for your child(ren) and their educational needs.
10) Cast your net wide for social support. Look for other parents of special needs kids who are on the same pathway as you are, and reach out to set up a coffee date. You may find that you can swap babysittting for a few hours with a compassionate and tolerant parent/family. You may find that you receive validation and support when you most need it. Most special needs staff and teachers tend to be some of the most loving and compassionate people on the planet– enlist their support when you are stuck with educational, social or other concerns, and often they will know where to send you for additional resources.
January 23, 2017: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4624231/
January 23, 2017: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/band-brothers-and-sisters/201406/siblings-children-disabilities
Chapman, G. (2015). The five love languages: the secret to love that lasts, Northfield Publishing.