If you’ve ever flown, you can probably recite the safety speech from memory, the way viewers of cop shows can recite the Miranda warnings. “I’d like to point out some of the safety features, blah, blah, blah….to fasten your seat belts, blah, blah, blah…. in the event of sudden loss of cabin pressure….PUT ON YOUR MASK FIRST……”
Shouldn’t I put my child first? Isn’t that what “good” parents do? Isn’t it selfish to put myself ahead of my child? The short, blunt answer is an emphatic , NO. Why? Because your child needs you, and you can’t help your child or anyone else if you’re unconscious. It’s not selfish, it’s smart.
As parents of a special needs child, you and I live in a world marked by scarcity. There never seems to be enough. Not enough time, not enough energy, not enough money, not enough sleep…. We want what is best for our child. We always worry that we will look back and find we didn’t do enough. Our inner dialogue is peppered with self-doubt and guilt. Our lives are marked by constant battles: battles with schools, health insurance, public agencies, and all too often, with our own child, spouse, family, and friends. We find ourselves feeling alone, exhausted, frustrated, and angry. Parents of special needs children are twice as likely to get divorced, at higher risk to abuse substances, and more likely to face bankruptcy. The stress of caring for a special needs child can fuel high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and all the illnesses to which those things can lead.
You owe it to your child to take care of yourself. Isn’t that great? One more thing to add to the to-do list, one more thing to feel guilty about. Lighten up, don’t make it such a big challenge. It really is about the little things. So, what can you realistically do? Start by putting on your mask first.
A few ideas:
- Do something you enjoy. Force yourself to spend 10 minutes each day on an activity you enjoy. Listen to music, take a walk, read a book, take a hot shower, play with your pet.
- Little is big. Try to get a little more sleep, eat a little better, be a little more active, laugh a little more often.
- Give up. Yes, you heard me right. Give up being perfect. Say “No” to that annoying PTA Mom who wants you to volunteer. Throw out that unfinished project you started and now sits haunting you.
- Talk about things other than your child. Call a friend and catch up on gossip, complain about the weather, laugh at the new fashions, laugh at the old fashions.
- Do something with your spouse. A walk, a drink, a hug, a movie, a date….
- Take a break. I know it seems impossible, but you need it. A respite worker, family member, or friend will never be as good as you with your child. And, that’s ok.
- Hit something. Really, it feels good. Take a kickboxing class, split wood, break an ugly vase, pound a pillow, stomp your feet!! It’s even better if you yell when you’re doing it.
- Get help. Let someone else take something off your plate. Let a friend or family member run that errand. Get a professional to deal with that problem that’s weighing on you.
- Have some (chocolate, coffee, clean air, silence, sleep, stupid fun, whatever….)
Remember: Put on your mask first. You owe it to your child.