7 Survival Tips for Parents of Special Needs Kids
Through out our struggles with Samantha there would be times I would want to roll up into a tiny ball and pray to disappear. I was exhausted, frustrated, and felt like I couldn't go on like this. My house was always a messy, I never had enough time to get my work done, and running errands was simply impossible. My husband and I hadn't had a date night out, by ourselves, in over 6 month. Vacation. What was that? We hadn't taken a vacation since Samantha was born. Yet, what I came to realize it that in those moments when I felt this way, it was not Samantha's fault. It was mine.
I had let myself fall into the pity pool trap. What I discovered is that if I was going to be the best Mommy I could be, the best wife I could be, and the best person I could be I was going to have to change how I did things. My priorities were going to have to shift, my perspective needed a switch, and I was going to have to build in ways for me to keep my sanity. Here are the biggest things I changed so help me survive the day to day needs of parenting a special needs child.
1. Get up at least 30 minutes before my daughter. I actually found that I preferred getting up at 5:30am each morning which gave me about an 1-1/2 hours before my daughter. During this time I can make a list of what I need to get done that day, sip on my coffee in peace, get dressed by myself, do a little work, and feel ready to take on the day.
2. Get enough sleep. So many of my friends burn the midnight oil well past when their kids go to sleep depriving their body of a restful 8-10 hours. Exhaustion is your enemy. You are way more susceptible to being cranky, short tempered, and not being able to think clearly when you are tired. Trust me, it leads to more tantrums (both theirs and yours). Plus, children with ADHD, mood disorders, and other disabilities have erratic sleep patterns. You want to be ready when your little one is wide awake at 2am for 2 hours.
3. Don't over schedule yourself. I use to have a laundry list of tasks I wanted to accomplish everyday. It is completely unrealistic to get 20 things done when you have special needs kids in tow. Our children are unpredictable. Their sleep patterns, their moods, their responses...all unpredictable. When you have this long list you feel inadequate if you can't accomplish them. <<--- Pure Nonsense. Instead, only focus on 1 to 3 items per day you would like to achieve, with the understanding that there will be days that even that few will be unattainable. Keep a master "brain dump" on one page, then rewrite them to another page broken out by day that with only those tasks on it. It is a visual way to help reduce the stress and anxiety of feeling overwhelmed with tasks to do. Also, be very selective of what activities you agree to take on. Each one takes energy and it is all to easy to say "Yes" to every call for help. If you do this, it will lead to your exhaustion and you resenting the situation you put yourself in. Instead don't be afraid to say "No". Guard your time and energy with extreme care.
4. Shift your expectations. You will never be able to get everything you want done. The list is endless. So that means your house will be messy, that means there may always be dirty dishes in your sink (I know there is in mine), there will always be laundry to do, errands to do. The most important thing you can do for yourself and your family is to let go of those ridiculous Joan Clever standards. If you are playing and there is glitter everywhere you are making memories, if you may have dishes to do but your children our fed, there may be toys to pick up but you helped your child work through their emotions. That is the stuff that really matters. The rest of it can wait.
5. Simplify, simplify, simplify. I can not say this enough. Purge out all the excess stuff in your life that you don't need; papers, toys, clothes, objects, etc. If you don't use it it's time to lose it. All this stuff clutters our mind and causes low level stress. Trust me, a cluttered home equals a clutter mind. Once you have purged streamline and organize as much as you can everything from making meals, to where things go. It will save all of you time and energy later. Honestly, how many times do we put something on the counter because it doesn't have a permanent place to live in our home and it just sits there for months? Give it a place or send it out the door. (We went as far as downsizing our home to free up time that was needed on cleaning, yard work, cost of maintenance, and more. It's been wonderful!)
6. Set aside time for yourself. Moms are notorious for putting everyone else's needs ahead of our own. Unfortunately, when we do that our giving wells run dry. We need time to ourselves to replenish that well. Luckily, for most of us it doesn't take a lot to re-energize our souls. A hour long hot bath with glass a wine, a quick pedicure, painting our nails, a night out with ladies or over coffee. Do at least something small for yourself each week and something larger once a month. I routinely paint my nails each week and my husband would cover for me to grab a late night coffee with my friends.
7. Build in dates. My husband and I do not have a lot of family nor many friends that can handle our daughter. More so now, but in the heat of things we couldn't leave her side. One of us was always with her. That led to not having very much "Us" time to be a couple. What we learn to do, is to have the formal dining table pre-set with dishes, glasses, fondue set, whatever and when the opportunity arose we had date night in. We would sit in there talking over wine and candles like we were at a fancy restaurant. We loved it. Next if my husband got up early to work at the kitchen table before going into the office, I would too. We would be together chatting as we worked over coffee. It wasn't always the most quality time together, but being able to talk like adults was fabulous. Occasionally, the right circumstance would come along, like my folks being in town and we would sneak a date night out. Recently, we have picked Friday or Saturday night to stay up late to watch a movie together or sit by the fire with cocktails. It still allows us that much needed "Us" time on a regular basis and now that we live in a neighborhood with lots of kids we spend many evenings on the porch side by side watching her play and chatting.
There you have it. My 7 Survival Tips for Parents of Special Needs Children. What survival tips do you use?