Life Skills for Homeschoolers, Pt. 10
In today’s post, I wish to discuss a topic that many parents with children with challenges neglect to address. That is practicing self-care.
Parenting a child with special needs takes a lot of work. Depending on the severity of the challenge, it may end up being a lifetime job. [This leads to another topic for another post.] What often happens in the more difficult situations, the marriage will not survive the challenges of being blessed with a special child. So, not only does the parent (often the mother) not practice self-care, but s/he will often have to carry the load alone. Of course, God is always there to equip this parent to make it through the years. These years do not have to be simply a time of survival, but can be a time of thriving.
This is why self-care is important. We do not want to merely survive our child’s younger years. We want our lives to be a witness to those around us about the enduring power of relying on God in the daily challenges of being a parent of a child with challenges. I recently asked a friend about what type of witness do we have when non-Christians do not see us thriving, but merely surviving? I’m not talking about living a life without problems because we are told we will suffer. I’m talking about how we handle things when the going gets rough. Do we focus on the problem or the problem solver?
Ideally, it would be good to have “Me Time” every day. This would be time set aside when the kids are occupied safely somewhere else, and you can do something just for you, something you enjoy, something you find refreshing. That’s not always practical, especially if you are a single parent with a high-needs child. If daily time is not possible, then at least once a week is a must. For myself, my Me Time was attending Toastmasters once a week. It was fun. I was out in the community, meeting other adults, and learning all types of things (my way to relax). I would also wake early for private Me Time.
Other ideas to find Me Time: gardening, walking/running, join a book club, women’s Bible study, crocheting, scrapbooking, etc. The main requirement would be that you enjoy it, and it does not create additional stress or add to your sense of responsibility. I know some may want to give Bible studies for their Me Time. If this is you, please make sure this time is refreshing to you and not added stress because you feel this is something you should do.
I spent five years as a caregiver. During that time, I took a caregivers’ class in order to learn how to take care of myself. We had a simple goal we were to practice daily. We had to write it as a smart goal (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely). We also had to give a rating on how likely we were to meet this goal. If the likelihood was less than 75 percent, then we had to choose another goal. Now, our goal could be “walk for 15 minutes three times a week” rather than actually doing it every day. Each week we set a new self-care goal. It might be possible to Google caregiver resources to find an example of this.
What if you are having trouble finding time for Me Time? First, make it a priority. Seriously. Just as many make having morning worship a priority, make self-care a priority. If married, arrange time with the spouse so he can watch the kids while you go out. You might even arrange time with some girlfriends to hang out with as part of your self-care. This could be a once a month activity. If the hubby can’t provide that time, then turn to grandparents, close personal friends, or church members. As a last resort for a single parent, you could hire a baby-sitter.
One bit of information that many parents are unaware of: If you have a child with challenges, it may be possible to get respite care through an agency of some kind. An example of this would be the Federation of Families in your state. Your local Disability Action Center might be able to point you to the agency that could provide respite care. Another agency that may be able to help is the Parents Unlimited of your state. Most of the time, this service is free, but there may be a charge in some venues. Insurance does cover this at times also.
Self-care is essential. Remember every time you fly, you hear the information of what to do if the oxygen masks drop down. First, you take care of yourself, and then you help your child or other person in need. Self-care also teaches your children important life lessons on boundaries that will provide untold blessings their entire lives.
Another aspect of self-care is not to forget the spouse. Taking care of that marrige relationship is just as important as taking care of yourself. Date night is an important activity recommended by almost every marriage counselor — secular or Christian. Date night doesn’t have to be expensive. It just takes some creative thinking. There are numerous books and online sights filled with ideas on how to keep the marriage relationship growing.
Having a special needs child is difficult enough without having to sacrifice our marriage. I think this is harder on women because we tend to sacrifice so easily. Again, those boundaries are important-for yourself and your marriage.
Don’t forget your friends, also. This may be further down on the priority list, but take time for those friends. Once a month or even bimonthly would be better than never getting away and enjoying the simple blessing of friendship. We are social creatures who need to be able to connect with others. It helps give us strength and often lets us know we are not alone in this pathway.
Self-care takes setting boundaries. Boundaries where you say no, either to the church or community or relatives or even immediate family. If setting boundaries is a challenge, I suggest the book Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend. It’s an excellent, Bible-centered book. I actually offer classes on this book.
If self-care is not practiced, what often happens is that mom will suffer, either mentally, emotionally, physically, or even spiritually. Health may fail due to overwhelming stress. Especially with homeschooling, burn-out can occur because of lack of proper self-care. Self-care is not an option. If you want to be the best parent for your special child, start by taking care of yourself each day in some small way.