10 Self-Care Tips for Parents with Kids on the Spectrum
When do I possibly have time for a nap? It's about how to find the time. I often discuss the importance of self-care with parents of clients on the Spectrum. Self-care is incredibly important in any situation that is demanding, stressful, and time-consuming. Research conducted in 2009 at University of Wisconsin-Madison indicates that mother's of children with autism have stress levels comparable to combat veterans.
How individual families go about managing time for self-care will depend on their circumstances. We don't expect all of these suggestions to work all of the time, for everyone in every situation, but hopefully they can help you brainstorm creative ways to take good care of yourself, so that you can continue taking good care of others. Please comment and let us know what has worked for you and your family.
Be willing to accept help
It can be difficult to accept help when it is offered and even more difficult to ask for help. Oftentimes people around us don't even know that we need or want their help. Sometimes this means delegating within your family, but often they are just as worn out. So, be willing to let those outside of your home know that you need, want, and are willing to accept help. Friends, neighbors, coworkers, and church family are all good places to seek help.
2. Keep a list of what others can do to help
(And then LET THEM help, see number 1.) I frequently recommend that parents keep a list of chores that can be done and instructions if necessary. This way family members or friends can do simple chores, such as loading and starting the dishwasher or sweeping the kitchen floor and you can check something off your list. As I said before, people are often willing to help, but they don't always know what to do.
3. Use this time to recuperate, not to get more work done
When we do have help, it can be tempting to use the spare time to get more done. Unfortunately, that is not restful or recuperative. This is time to do something fun, relaxing, and enjoyable. It can be time alone reading, taking a walk, or maybe you just need time to go to the bathroom by yourself! This same principle can apply to those times when you have your child or family member occupied, maybe with a game or napping, or (gasp!) the television. Be careful to use some of those opportunities for yourself.
4. Utilize every possible (safe) respite opportunity
Many of the parents we see have safety and availability concerns regarding having someone watch their child or loved one. These are valid concerns; it is very important to make sure any babysitter, volunteer, caregiver, attendant, or church nursery worker is prepared to manage any situations which might arise while caring for a person with special needs. It takes time for parents and family members to trust others with their loved one. Once you've taken the time to get to know the people who will be caring for your child, you'll enjoy your break a whole lot more. In Virginia Beach, there are groups such as Autism Buddies, who provide a few hours of respite care a month. Trinity Presbyterian in Norfolk hosts a respite night for children on the Spectrum and their siblings, ages 3-16, to allow parents time to a few hours off.
5. Get involved in a community
Your local church or synagogue can be a great way to build a better support network for both you and your family. Finding a church that fits your special needs can be a challenge. We hear from so many families that just getting everyone to a service is difficult. There are many faith communities in Hampton Roads that want to serve you and your family. More and more churches are looking to include everyone, regardless of ability. You can find a list of faith communities who serve individuals with disabilities and their families at the Faith Inclusion Network (FIN) website. If church is not the right fit for your family, get involved somewhere, such as a mother's group, like MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers is open to any parent of a newborn through school age child) or a local playgroup.
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