Taking Time For Yourself

Taking a break is even more important when parenting a child with extraordinary needs. Moms needs to recharge (dads too) to face the parenting challenges with renewed energy, so what often prevents us from doing so? Is it simply guilt or chronic sleep deprivation which affects our good judgment?

I can remember in the early days after receiving the autism diagnosis for both of my children that I felt I couldn’t take a break from parenting. Who would ever be able to look after two such difficult children with no language, toileting skills, eating difficulties, and challenging behavior? I thought I had to try and do it all or I would be failing as a mother.  I felt the imaginary finger of society pointing at me, telling me I should be able to care for these children 24/7. After all, they were mine – weren’t they?

It wasn’t until I fell into a debilitating depression that I realized taking some time away from the children was just good sense. No one has limitless energy or patience. My best friend gave me the name of a local childcare agency that specialized in caring for children with disabilities. It took me some time to call them, but once I tapped into using respite care, I never looked back. Setting aside “me” time changed my outlook on life.

The first thing I did for myself was book an appointment to get my nails done. I thought it would be a one-time treat, but I loved it so much I am still going to this day. I’ve had the same nail technician, Terry, since January 2001. She’s listened to me over the years with a non-judgmental and accepting ear. She has stood by me through the worst times. My one hour appointment has often turned into three hours when I’ve needed extra time to pull myself together. Some of my most comforting times have been sitting at her desk eating black licorice which no one else in the world seems to enjoy like we do.

The second thing I did was fulfill my lifelong dream of figure skating. I decided to take up the sport at age 39. I couldn’t do anything on skates when I started except glide a bit. My first coach from the Learn to Skate program encouraged me to pursue this dream and get into a figure skating club. I followed her advice two years ago and began taking lessons privately with a coach. I started competing a year ago. Skating is the only time when I can’t think about autism because I have to concentrate so hard on new technique and memorizing routines and dances.

Skating has become more than just an activity that keeps me fit. It has been the camaraderie created from working on common goals with other adults that has given me a sense of belonging. Everyone at the rink has a story and a struggle. We all juggle so much in our personal lives just to be at the rink. I can also see a little bit of improvement every time I am on the ice which gives me a sense of accomplishment.

I encourage every parent to find something just for them. It doesn’t even have to cost anything. Organize a walking group, see a film at the library, start your own book club – whatever takes your fancy. There is a great book called More Than a Mom written by Canadian Heather Fawcett, which provides great ideas for breaks and why you need them. Build a life for yourself outside of autism. It may seem selfish at first, but finding something just for you does give you strength to face the difficult daily parenting challenges.

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