Many moms of young children joke about not getting time to shower or use the bathroom by themselves. When your baby or toddler has a developmental delay, it can be even more difficult to find time to yourself. Developmental delays and disabilities create lengthy to-do lists for moms and dads, which can make self-care seem impossible.
But for parents of children with delays and disabilities, self-care is crucial. Children with disabilities are at an increased risk for abuse and neglect, sometimes because of overwhelmed caregivers. Also, there’s the oft-repeated metaphor of the oxygen mask on an airplane--you have to put yours on before helping others. When you’ve taken time to take care of yourself, you are in a better position to help your child.
Most parents recognize the need for self-care. But when you’re in the throes of caregiving, it is difficult to figure out HOW to take care of yourself. And when your child is young, the pressure is the greatest. Many well-meaning people will tell you about the importance of early intervention, making it seem as if you have this one narrow window of time to help your child.
So here are some tips for taking care of yourself:
- Don’t worry about being perfect. Set reasonable expectations for yourself.
- Seek social support. Tell your friends and family about the stresses in your life.
- Find new support systems. Look for local support groups or meet other parents at our PE-ID activities. These parents can relate to your stress--and they often have tips and ideas (and sometimes recommendations for babysitters who can handle special needs).
- Write down a list of your priorities and say “no” to any requests that don’t fit.
- Set aside 10-30 minutes a day for yourself. This might require waking up a few minutes early or staying up late, but these moments will make a huge difference in your day.
- Get the whole family involved. Make sure you’re dividing up household chores, caregiving duties, and educational tasks. Even young siblings can help.
- Exercise. This is crucial, but how do you fit this into your life? Some parents get exercise while pushing a stroller, some wake up early for a quick run, and some put on music and dance while making dinner. And if possible, incorporate your children into your exercise routine--you’ll be taking care of yourself and setting an example at the same time. (At my house, we enjoy this bedtime yoga routine--it helps us exercise and get a good night’s sleep.)
- Eat healthy. Stress makes you crave chips and cookies. A soda with sugar and caffeine can be an easy way to boost your energy when you have nothing left. However, these are very temporary solutions that will leave you feeling worse in the end. If the idea of overhauling your diet seems overwhelming, start small: make a plan to drink more water or eat more veggies and then build on those habits.
- Find peace with your situation. One of the most stressful aspects of raising a child with disabilities is the frustration of wishing for a different life. This is completely understandable, but it’s draining. If it’s difficult to come to a place of acceptance, try counseling, journaling, or art therapy.