The phone calls. The meetings. The doctor’s appointments.
There are additional variables at play with our special needs kids that have the capacity to de- rail us from being the parents we’ve always wanted to be. If there’s a common variable that all special needs parents would agree to experiencing, it would be that they are exhausted.
Exhausted with the day-to-day of typical parenthood. Exhausted by the relentless confrontation of our own fears for the future of our children. Exhausted by the ongoing research and implementation as we continuously seek out techniques and interventions that may help make our child’s life just a little bit easier.
This is precisely why finding areas to save energy as a special needs parent is not only of immense value to us, but also to our family. As a special needs mom and mental health professional, I’d love to share some energy saving tips that may surprise you.
Take care of yourself emotionally.
It’s likely that parenting these days doesn’t look exactly the way you pictured it. That’s OK. Acceptance is the goal, but we need to give ourselves time and space to get there.
I know there’s no time for this most days, but I’m here pleading the importance to make time. The reality is, your child is going to need 110% from you many days. A fraction of your heart, mind, and body likely won’t do. For this reason, special needs parents and families will benefit greatly from investing time to take care of the complicated thoughts and emotions you carry with you each day.
This will look different for every parent, but fostering overall awareness of our emotions and finding a healthy outlet to express them is what will keep your heart and mind open and strong to support your child.
So find your thing — exercise, journaling, meditation, or therapy. Yes, it’s certainly far easier to numb and distract ourselves with busy schedules and technology, but both you and your child are worth the intentional investment of time to take care of your own heart.
Allow others to step in and support your child and family.
This can be a difficult task if you’ve been the primary caregiver for your child with special needs, but accepting support it is no doubt for the greater good. It can be extremely difficult and anxiety provoking to let go of control of our kids (or should I say the perception of control), but if we make it a habit, it can be transformational.
Because of this very intense daily support and caregiving, special needs parents will benefit from stepping back and allowing someone else to step in. Sometimes literal separation is needed to remind us that we are a separate person with our own needs, interests and identity. Time and space to ourselves gives us new perspectives and clarity on our lives and families.
Cultivate gratitude through positivity.
We’re now learning just how much a grateful mindset can contribute to our health and well-being. Drawing your attention to what you are thankful for, and what is going right offers a plethora of benefits including better physical health, psychological health and improved sleep.
With many daily stressors of special needs parenting, it’s easy to find ourselves stuck in negative thinking patterns. Consciously shifting our thinking toward gratitude and empowerment will literally change the pathways in our brains, allowing us to feel better and be the parent we set out to be each day.
Familiarize with self-compassion.
Self-compassion essentially means extending the same grace and compassion to ourselves as we do to others. Pretty foreign concept to us caregivers, right? We have plenty of patience to go around for our child and family, but when it comes to going easy on ourselves, we often times fall short.
“Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals.” –Dr. Kristin Neff
The next time you are in a stressful situation and things don’t go well, extend yourself some of the same compassion and grace you wholeheartedly offer others each day.
Find your special needs tribe.
There is nothing as cathartic and fulfilling as sharing challenges and triumphs with other parents in your shoes who are walking this journey beside you. If feels amazing to know we’re not alone, and to have our thoughts, frustrations, and concerns both heard and validated.
A huge benefit of social media and technology is being able to network with others with similar lifestyles. Find support whether it’s an in-person support group or an online group or page where you can learn and communicate among friends.
Special needs parent: There are countless places you’ll deposit your energy throughout your day, and it’s not likely this will end anytime soon. I know you’re giving it your all and doing the best you can with what you have.
The next time you’re feeling the pangs of that inevitable energy drain, remember it may be time to turn your focus inward, and to take some of that caregiving genius and use it on yourself. In giving yourself this gift, I can only imagine what gifts you’ll also be giving your child.
Undoubtedly, the best one of all is that you’ll be giving your kids the very best version of you.