Did you ever wonder why flight attendants instruct parents to put their oxygen masks on before assisting children? How could this be the right thing to do? Isn’t putting yourself first both selfish and bad parenting? Actually it makes perfect sense. If you place the mask on your child first, no one would be around to help him/her after you pass out. Taking the time to place the mask on first, ensures that you will have the energy to assist. The same is true of parenting your child on a daily basis.
Taking care of ourselves, as parents, prevents us from getting burnt out. It allows us time to re-group, rest and most importantly, have a little me time, but for parents of special needs children, the idea of self-care, might be somewhat foreign. In the easiest form, self-care can be those stolen moments like sitting and having a cup of coffee, relaxing with a good book, or taking a bath. Other times it can be something a bit more active like exercising, meeting up with friends, a long drive or even a weekend away. Moments like these are tough for any parent, but for parents whose children have extra special needs, it can be nearly impossible to get even a minute to yourself.
How to make it happen
Take advantage of the time you’re alone
Instead of running to the grocery store, post office and car wash while the kids are in school, use that time to get a haircut or meet a friend for lunch. Save the not-so-fun-stuff for later! In the summer, enroll your son or daughter in a camp or activities program for special needs. This list reflects many here in PA, but these types of camps are all over the US. Time apart can be good for both you and your child.
Practicing relaxation, visualization, journaling, yoga, or meditation may help quiet those negative, self-defeating thoughts that make us feel guilty about taking time for ourselves. Positive thinking helps too! Research has found that you can reduce stress by repeating a positive word to yourself for 20 minutes a day. What will your word be?
Whatever activity you do for yourself, it should serve to re-energize and re-focus you, leaving you better able to care for your child and deal with the challenges that the family may encounter.
STRESS is a choice. RESISTANCE is a choice. JOY is a choice. Choose wisely!
Carolyn Appleton, PhD obtained her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Drexel University in 2011. She is the Clinical Director of START, Woods’ Short Term Autism Residential Treatment program. START is a behaviorally-based program for children/adolescents (ages 6-20) with a diagnosis of autism and co-occurring behavioral and emotional difficulties. Learn more about START.