When you take a trip on an airplane, one of the most important things that the flight attendants tell you in their preflight speech is, in case of an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask prior to assisting your child. This is because if you pass out first, it’s unlikely that your children are going to know what to do. It’s an anecdote that speaks directly to the situation in which a lot of parents of special needs kids find themselves…we take care of everyone else before we take care of ourselves.
I have a child with high-functioning Autism. For all intents and purposes, Evan is just like every other 9-year-old kid, just needing some help with school. But, it wasn’t always like that, and my mind and body have shown the wear over the years. When he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified), basically an umbrella diagnosis for Autism, everything else stopped. I had Evan’s older brother to take care of also, a husband and the desire to go back to my career at some point. Nope, not happening, not a chance.
Even though we did end up having another child the next year, the days of taking care of myself ended when Evan started therapy. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, applied behavioral analysis, and discreet trials became the basic activities of my day, along with trying to care for and stimulate my other two boys. My day consisted of child-centered activities only. There was no time for me, no time for my husband, no time for anything or anyone but my kids. To this day, I’m amazed my marriage has lasted for 15 years, because it seems that my husband and I would go for days without speaking. I was so tired by the end of the day, that I would literally pass out on whatever piece of furniture I happened to land.
We all talk about how we need to care for ourselves or we will be no good for our children, but how many of us actually take the time to do just that? I can’t remember the last time I had a massage or pampered myself at all. I volunteer at 100 different things, claiming that I’m doing it for “adult stimulation.” Truthfully, everything I do is for my kids; every volunteer project I take on is to benefit them in some way through the networking each project provides. Maybe I’ll meet a good teacher, maybe I’ll meet another parent like me to talk to, maybe I’ll find a good resource, maybe I’ll help my kid make a friend…it’s never really about me.
Lately, I’ve begun to change that. I’ve started taking some ME time every day. It’s not insanely overt, just quiet time to do some things I want to do. I’ve started writing in my journal again, something I used to love and got away from because I got too busy. I started reading more, going out with friends more. I started a spiritual study project focusing on my soul and my own self-reflection. I just explained to my husband that I need some quiet time and could he please watch over the kids for a while. I also started a business doing, get this, mobile spa parties teaching people how to pamper themselves, care for themselves, relax and enjoy a little bit of “ME” time!
If we let ourselves fall into a pit of self-neglect, we will never be able to provide the help and support our kids need. In addition, we set a terrible example for them by not showing them how important it is to care for ourselves. Kids learn by watching us and we are the best example. If we take care of ourselves, it shows them that their needs are important, but that they need to, when possible, try to meet them on their own. It’s time for us to start caring for ourselves…no one is going to put that oxygen mask on for us…we need to take care of us.
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