I work with a colleague whose second child was born with special needs. Every time I speak with him he sounds exhausted. There seems to be doctor’s appointments every other week or another crisis that meant no sleep for anyone. His exhausted wife hands over the care of their son to him as soon as he gets home. No one is sleeping enough, eating right or getting any down time. There is tension in his marriage and he's not sure where to turn since they are looking at years of operating at this level.
If you are a parent of a special needs child or know someone who is, then you know this can be a common scenario. The daily requirements of caring for your child or children while meeting the demands of their illness can be daunting.
Last week we wrote a piece on the need for social workers to engage in self-care in order to avoid professional burnout. That is easier to do when the stress is caused by job that has a fixed end point in the day. For parents, it’s a 24/7 obligation with no end in site.
Therefore, the need for self-care becomes all the more important, as the risks are higher for burnout and stress that not only impact your health but also impact your ability to be a good parent to your child. Your well-being and good health are crucial to meeting the demands that are put on you each and every day.
To Sleep Perchance to Dream
Shakespeare knew what he was talking about. A good night’s sleep means you have achieved rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, that deep sleep that occurs after a few hours. REM sleep is when your brain is actually repairing itself and we can only dream during REM sleep.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, there is no way you will have enough energy to face the next day’s demands. It may also mean that you are more short tempered with your child; have less energy to engage in the play or exercises they require and more concerning, driving if you are sleep deprived is simply dangerous.
How much sleep we need differs from individual to individual. However, 7-8 hours is typically what we need to really get the rest and repair we need to maintain our emotional and physical health.
Me Time is Good Time
As a parent I know the feelings of guilt you can have when you put yourself first and your kids second. As your kids get older that can be easier to do as there may be more time when they are in school to find “me time.” When they’re young and home all day, it is virtually impossible to find the time to take care of you.
The consequences of not finding a balance can be unhealthy. You love your child with all of your heart, but it would take a superhuman person not to admit that there are times when you just need some time away from them to relax and restore. You simply cannot give 100% of yourself 100% of the time and still expect to function at your best for your child.
If your child is young and you can afford it, perhaps you can have someone come in for just two hours, three times a week, so you can get to the gym, take a walk, visit a friend or go shopping without your child.
Just because you are the parent of a special needs child, it doesn’t mean you have more patience or stamina than other parents. So make the time to care for yourself.
Special needs children require a lot and caring for them is complicated and exhausting. Find the time for self-care and hopefully your job will get a little easier.
- How to Stop Your Child from Teasing Children with Special Needs
- A Child With Autism Paints Masterpieces
- A Children's Book Highlights Mental Health For PTSD Awareness Month
- Celebrating Special Education: How You Can Get Involved
- Control Costs with These 9 Staffing Strategies [INFOGRAPHIC]