Parents of kids with extra challenges are a funny bunch, both funny ha-ha and funny peculiar. Funny ha-ha because – well, if you don’t laugh you’ll go crazy. Peculiar because we seldom follow our own advice and fail spectacularly in one area especially – self care.
While we will sit up until 2am holding our little one’s hand to scare away the night terrors, we rarely ask someone to hold our hand and chase away the terrors for us. We watch our children grow with a strange mixture of pride & joy and fear & worry.
We understand that our little ones may never spread their wings and fly from the nest to live successfully on their own but we are given the opportunity to redefine success. For us, our children’s success does not mean enjoying a career, meeting the right person and settling down to start a family of their own. Instead success is finally getting them to go to the bathroom themselves or making eye contact or tolerating a kiss goodnight.
And as we fight tooth and nail for our children, struggle for funding and services, battle for respite care, or act as their advocate in the school system, we also fail. We fail to take care of ourselves, our physical, emotional and mental health.
We worry constantly “What will happen when I’m not here?” but we don’t consider that the constant stresses and strains of raising a child with extra needs are the very things that are likely to cause the illnesses that can take us away early.
If we continue to fail in taking care of ourselves, we’re also failing our families and children.
We need to be fit and healthy and strong; we need to maintain resilience in order to provide our children with the support they need and we need to stop making excuses. I know them all:
- I don’t have time to exercise
- I’m always too exhausted
- Joining a gym or a class is too expensive – we need the money for medical bills
- There is no time to prepare healthy food for myself – I snack when I can
- It’s impossible to get a sitter who will be able to cope
- If I did have time money and energy – I’d like to do something with my partner
All of these points are valid but they’re also excuses we use for ourselves. No one will think badly of us if we go for a walk, have a haircut or see a movie. If we run ourselves into the ground, make ourselves ill, breakdown under the strain – who will be there for our children then? We need to get past these points and make time to take care of ourselves, because in doing so, we’re taking care of our children and providing them with happy, healthy parents for many years to come.
So – share with us – when was the last time you did something for yourself? Or what stops you?