Are You Recharging Yourself?
Special needs children are likely to be high maintenance children. Whether a disability is developmentally, neurologically or medically based, these children require significant time, attention, planning and support. They are sensitive on many fronts. Their emotions, behaviors, likes and dislikes are often intensified. Their health, learning and/or social needs are vast. These sensitivities necessitate that parents adjust their usual style in order to suit their child's unique needs and ways of responding.
Parents often have a range of experiences and feelings: worry, burden, inadequacy, frustration, and exhaustion (emotional and physical). Over time, this may bring about depression, isolation, resentment and guilt. While there is no fixed rule, women and men have different styles and beliefs regarding self care. Women have been socialized as caregivers and may find it difficult to claim time for themselves due to an inner notion that it is "selfish." Men, on the other hand, are socialized to be providers and often overwork. For both, self care can seem elusive or inconceivable and for some, even unacceptable.
While there is no magic cure to relieve some of the realities of having a high maintenance child, taking time for yourself helps. A good place to start is for couples to talk with each other about their self care needs and then co-create nourishing and re-energizing opportunities for them as individuals and as a couple.
Below are ideas that make caring for yourself a manageable reality:
- Remind yourself that you and that your couple relationship require attending. Find your "us."
- Let go of the notion you have to do it all by yourself.
- Identify what is extraneous and depletes your energy.
- Practice saying "no" on occasion.
- Learn to share responsibility with your spouse.
- Ask for help from family/friends.
- Overcome being intimidated by others who seem to do this effortlessly.
- Find professionals who work respectfully with you.
- Broaden your parenting skills to better handle taxing behaviors or circumstances.
- Find environments that fit your child and yourself (e.g. don't go to supermarkets with your child if it creates tension).
- Network with parents whose children are older and have similar profiles to learn what lies ahead. Ask about their coping strategies and techniques.
Meeting your own needs can come in a variety of forms, depending on what would be fulfilling at a given time. Perhaps your internal batteries can be recharged with quiet reflection and other times rejuvenated by having contact with people whom you feel close and understood. Ideas to consider for revitalization are:
- Develop a relationship with a sitter whom you can trust; who can be trained to work with your child.
- Block out non-negotiable time for you and your spouse on your calendar.
- Go out on dates with your spouse — something interesting, novel and fun.
- Find a form of exercise you like to do; designate time, even if for short periods — it will be invigorating.
- Meditate, learn relaxation techniques.
- Get involved in something you thought you would never do and things you like to do. It builds up your reserves.
- Start or join a book club, support or discussion group.
- Attend the theatre, lectures, movies, music and/or sporting events.
- Get good rest, including power naps.
- Keep a private journal to pour out your dark thoughts and negative feelings.
- Create a space for a safe haven in your home; make it your special retreat.
- Have lunch with a friend or a close family member.
By challenging your attitudes about self care and not abandoning your needs, you will gain new perspectives about renewal and energy. More often, by making yourself do some of these things, you'll discover you cope more effectively, minimizing the risk of burnout. You deserve to claim time and space for yourself and each other. In being creative, your possibilities are endless.
Jenny Frank, CSW, and Roberta Omin, CSW-R, are clinical social workers in Westchester County, N.Y., who have extensive experience working with individuals, families and children with special needs. They co-founded and co-write for their newsletter Special Parenting Matters of Westchester published three times per year.