We are strong. Fierce. Able to leap down the throats of insensitive people in a single bound. We are special needs parents and caregivers. When it comes to caring for our special children, we are good.
There is, however, something many of us are not so good at — caring for ourselves. We s*ck at that!
With all the tasks involved with raising special children — advocating for services, handling the volume of bad news school calls, searching for seamless socks, praying for birthday party invites — many of us have little energy left to take care of ourselves. And that’s a shame because self-care is one of the most important ways of dealing with the stress of special needs parenting.
Think about it. If we’re not healthy, how can we possibly raise healthy children?
A speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) once shared an interesting analogy about self-care. She said, “When they give you safety instructions on an airplane, what do they always tell you do when the oxygen mask drops down? They tell you to put your mask on first and then put your child’s on.”
It sounds simple enough, yet so many of us fail to take time out of our schedules to put own our own masks. Heck, most of us rarely take the time to put on our make-up or pants.
Hello Independence. Goodbye Martyrdom.
Years ago, when my children were struggling and our household was at a high stress level (registering a 100 on the stress-o-meter), I did NOTHING for myself. Well except go to the bathroom… I occasionally did that. It wasn’t until a wise friend and therapist told me, “Gina, you’re so stressed out. As the mother, you dictate the temperature of the house. If you’re stressed, your children will be stressed.”
It made so much sense. I thought by focusing just on my children’s care, I was being a good mother. Instead, the lack of care I gave to myself was actually hurting them. I was tired, short tempered, stressed, and depressed — my own Imperfect Mommy Dearest (though I had no problem with wire hangers).
That’s when I decided to put a little energy into my own care and introduce a livelier, healthier, more exciting me — “Independent Gina” — to replace tired, old stressed-out “Martyr Gina.” I joined a women’s basketball league and started playing twice a week. I made a great group of friends and ran out my stress. And on occasion, I even scored a basket. #winning
As a self-care convert, Independent Gina, would like to share her tips for practicing self-care:
Get the heck out of the house. Since special needs households tend to be stressful (You could cut the stress with a chain saw), try and get away when you can. Meeting a friend for coffee or joining a book club count for getting out of the house.
Note: Going to the mailbox does not count.
Exercise. Nothing is better at relieving stress than exercise. Take up walking, running, or yoga. Or join a gym. I have to say I love my gym, Planet Fitness, which has the equipment I like and Pizza Monday and Bagel Tuesdays. #winwinwin
Note: Doing your child’s math exercises does not count.
Laugh. Laughter offers some significant health benefits — it reduces stress and triggers endorphins. Make some time to go see a funny movie or watch a comedy show.
Note: Going to the dentist and getting laughing gas for cavity removal does not count, unless you bring the laughing gas home. If you do, please call me to come visit.
Treat yourself. When is the last time you treated yourself? Get your hair or nails done. Or get some new clothes. Just buy something fresh and new.
Note: Buying deodorant does not count.
Honestly, it really doesn’t matter what you do to take care of yourself (Provided it won’t get you arrested); the important thing is that you do something for yourself and put your inner martyr to rest. RIP Martyr Gina. (She was really no fun anyway.)
Tell us one thing you do for yourself each day. Note: brushing your teeth doesn’t count.
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