You may have heard a lot of things about self-care and why it’s improtant to us, as special needs parents. It can seem like a bit of a buzzword and something to be pushed to the side, while you deal with everything else on your plate. How can you devote time to you when you have kids to wrangle, school to chase up, appointments to attend, reports to request, work to do and therapy to follow through?
However, self-care is more than a buzzword or something to be pushed to the side. Self-care is vital to our wellbeing as carers and special needs parents. If you are not looking after you, how can you look after anyone else? It’s a simplistic argument, but you can’t argue against it – it’s 100% true.
I admit, self-care is the first thing that falls off my list when times get tough. Last year, when my Mum’s heath issues began, I pushed my own needs to the side so I could deal with hers. Then, when my husband had a health crisis, I ignored my needs even more. Finally, when things got tough at the end of the year for my older kids, it was a case of “Needs? What needs?” as I scrambled to be everything to everyone else.
Predictably, things got even harder for me and I ended up falling apart. I was unable to write, I gave up exercise, I felt flat and exhausted and I had nothing left for anyone. My health suffered (I’m still battling viruses right now) and my mental health took a dive.
All because I didn’t value my own needs.
As parents and carers, we need to understand self-care and why it’s essential to our own wellbeing and to the wellbeing of those we care for. Here are 5 things special needs parents should know about self-care.
5 Things Special Needs Parents Should Know About Self-Care
Self-care is not an indulgence
I think this view of self-care has roots in the past. It stems from the thinking that if you are not working or being productive, then you must be lazy and not interested in work. I remember my Dad always pottering about and doing things around the house when I was young because sitting down and recharging was not an acceptable use of his time. Unfortunately, this ingrained thought process lives in me too. We need to challenge this thinking. Taking time out for self-care is not an indulgence or a sign of laziness. It’s a necessary way for our mind, body and spirit to recharge. We need to stop so we CAN keep going. It should be welcomed as a valuable personal investment, not a useless waste of our time.
Self-care is possible during a busy day
Another popular view of self-care is the dream of taking time out, dropping your responsibilities and going somewhere else to look after you for a while. While going to a spa or taking a day away from the ongoing obligations of your life is wonderful, it’s not all that practical. And, to be honest, it’s not going to be as useful to you if you only get this opportunity once a year. We need to remember that it is possible to practice self-care in little pockets throughout the day. We just need to adjust our expectations, recognise these opportunities and learn to seize them when they arise. Commit to reading a chapter of a book. Resolve to have a cup of tea in your yard. Do a crossword or puzzle. Even if it’s two ten-minute blocks a day, it’s time for YOU.
Self-care is nothing to feel guilty about
This point is very much related to the first one, but it runs deeper for special needs parents. I know I’ve felt guilty for needing time out, let alone actually taking it. It can feel like your betraying your kids by wanting time away from them and their needs. It can feel selfish to even consider putting your own needs first. However, practicing self-care is nothing to feel guilty about. Workers are given holidays so they can take a break and maintain their productivity. Students have school holidays during the school year to rest and maintain their learning. It should be no different for special needs parents. We deserve time out too, so we can breathe, recharge and keep on going with our caring responsibilities. Never feel guilty about practicing self-care.
Self-care should be a daily ritual
Going back to the second point, self-care should be something you commit to each day, which means it needs to fit into your life, as it is right now. I’m the first one to admit it can be tricky to fit it in, but it comes down to us making the decision to try. It’s all about mindset. Our kids are important but so are we. If we are committed to being there for them for the long haul, we need to invest in ourselves and build self-care activities into each day. They don’t have to take a lot of time or take us out of the house or cost us money. Self-care will look different for each of us, but as long as we are consciously doing something just for us and refilling our cup, then that’s all we need to do each day. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, it’s going to help us as carers.
Self-care is not an option – it’s a necessity
I’ve learned this the hard way. Self-care is not an option – it’s a necessity. You can either choose to be proactive and build some small form of self-care into your day or you can choose to continue to ignore your needs until you can no longer ignore them. if you don’t look after yourself, you run the very serious risk of not being able to look after your kids. I suffered a stress-induced health scare (a suspected stroke) back in 2014 because I ignored my own needs for years. I wasn’t able to drive, I had to have time off work, I couldn’t get the kids to appointments and I felt like a burden to everyone. It was one of the worst times of my life. But, I finally got the message and I started practicing self-care, in small ways, each and every day.
Don’t be like me – understand how important self-care is BEFORE you suffer a crisis.
This post is part of our new series “5 Things Special Needs Parents Should Know”. If you’d like to submit a guest post, or if you have a topic you’d like covered as part of this weekly series, send your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org