Growing up, we are taught that to be good parents we must put ourselves last all the time. As parents, we feel the need to put ourselves last, and daily we can see the crushing results of parents who put themselves first and their children last – neglect, abuse, etc. But in the case of raising special needs/attachment issues/mental health issue children…. we need to put ourselves much higher on the list. First, in many instances.
Much is required of us as parents in these special circumstances. Emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically, we are sucked dry by our children, our friends, our extended family, with very little to fill us up again. I compare it to trying to drive your car to the gas station or the emergency room or the beach when it’s on empty. You can’t get it to go when there’s no fuel, no matter where you need it to go or how important the trip is. There’s just nothing left to fuel the engine. The same is true with us. We can’t let ourselves run out of fuel. Then we have nothing left to give our children, our spouse, even ourselves.
Although it may go against the grain, it may feel selfish, put yourself high on the list. Take care of your needs. Eat well, don’t skip meals or eat a lot of junk food in place of a meal – your body needs fuel. Get sleep – even if it means checking into a hotel by yourself or with your spouse sometimes and leaving the kids with a caregiver so you can get a full night’s sleep. The floor doesn’t need to be swept or the dishes don’t need to be done if you need a nap. Get out with some friends – have a cup of coffee, or dessert. Take some time for yourself. The problems will still be there when you get home. The stress will still be there when you get home. Nothing will have changed – except you. You will be lighter. You will be refreshed. You will have a higher tolerance level for “the crap”. You will have more patience.
Second in line behind you is your spouse. Many, many marriages are destroyed with special needs kids. Work together, spend time together, just the two of you. Get away from the stress and worry at home, and focus on having some fun. Make some rules for this time: Do not talk about the kids, money, or anything that stresses you out. Have fun. Play games, go hiking, go for a walk, go to a spa, get a couples’ massage, get intimate, whatever, but spend time together.
You can do this. This is not a sprint, but a marathon, actually more like a triathalon. Fuel yourself, your mind, body, soul, and partner, so that you can give to your children and help them heal. You got this!