Being the parent of a child with special needs is challenging. In fact, it can bring unexpected stresses with spouses, siblings and even within your own belief in your parenting abilities.
“My child is struggling and I’m exhausted.”
“My spouse is disconnected from the family.”
“I feel like I’m not doing enough, but I don’t know what else to try.”
You try your best to be kind, patient and loving but there are days when you’re so tired of the struggles that you just want to quit.
And these days can be full of:
- Resentment that every day is a challenge.
- Uncertainty of what’s best for your child.
- Frustration with inconsistent information from specialists.
- Sadness for dreams unfulfilled (and guilt for feeling sadness about it).
- Irritation towards “helpful” advice from those who have no idea about your daily stresses.
- Jealousy towards parents who have “typical” families.
- GUILT for feeling any or all of the above!
You are not alone in this!
So what can parents do?
Find a support system
When you find others who also are walking this path you discover coping strategies, new resources, and support from other parents who “get it.”
Just knowing you’re not the only one makes things a little easier emotionally.
Ask for help
Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It’s only when you open up, you discover:
1) I wasn’t “parenting wrong” – I just needed more information and additional strategies and
2) there is help out there!
Talk to your…
- Paediatrician or therapist regarding referrals to specialists.
- child’s teacher for additional suggestions to help your child academically.
- counselor, or other special needs parents for personal support.
- spouse or co-parenting partner to brainstorm family solutions.
- friends and family for possible “mom’s time out” so you can recharge your battery.
Take care of yourself
This is where parents struggle the most! “But I just don’t have time for me!” If you want to be the best version of the parent you can be, you need to allow yourself time to relax and recharge your battery.
Think of your energy as a pitcher of water,: if you constantly pour out your energy (the water) but never refill the pitcher, you have nothing to contribute to, at the end of the day.
Here are a few quick tricks that are helpful:
- Give yourself permission to take 5-10 minutes each day strictly for yourself. (I know, it’s hard, but your kids need you to do this)
- Do something that relaxes you (a cup of coffee, read a few pages from an inspirational or funny book, or just sit and do nothing).
- Share Childcare with your parenting partner or enroll your kids for extracurricular activities or social events.
- Exercise…even if it’s only 10 minutes of cardio or stretching.
Take care of the relationship
For those of you co-parenting, make sure to take care of your partnership. Parents who are exhausted tend to forget to work on their relationship, get irritated and fail to communicate well.
Ways to enhance your partnership include:
- a willingness to kindly communicate your need for help. This helps prevent the build-up of resentment between partners.
- give the main caregiver a break.
- take time to be together (even if it’s just 15 mins) without the kids to talk about things other than the kids.
- be compassionate and supportive listeners for each other.
- acknowledge your partner’s strengths.
To the last point… if your spouse is great at handling your child’s homework struggles, step back and allow him to help. If one of you is patient in the morning and the other is more patient at night, use that knowledge to plan chores and childcare time.
Take care to nurture sibling relationships
It is so easy for much of your energy and effort to go to the child with special needs, especially with the extra doctor appointments, support specialists and academic issues that can be a part of your child’s therapy. Siblings of a special needs child might feel “slighted” at times. If this happens, be assured you’re not a bad parent, just a human, and try some of the tips below!
- Make sure each child gets some undivided attention.
Even simple things like reading at bedtime or talks while driving to school count! It’s the quality, not the quantity that will make a difference.
- Engage in your child’s activities.
Ask them about a school project, volunteer to organize a play date or sleepover together, ask questions about the movie they saw with a friend. Your attention to the details in their day will matter
- Include your children in the care of their sibling, as appropriate.
There will be days when they will want to help, others when they don’t and that is fine. Caring for family members instills compassion in even the youngest children.
- Give your children information as they want it.
Some children accept their sibling “just how she is” and others want to know “why she uses a hearing aid.” Children are curious and the more facts they have the better.
- Empower your family by accepting what is your “normal.”
Every family does things a little differently, yours included. A child who is in a wheelchair is still your child, he just has a different way of getting around, which is normal for your family.
This lesson teaches other children acceptance, compassion and respect for others who also may do things differently.
- Problem solve as a team!
There are times when challenges arise, empower your children by having them brainstorm solutions with you. It’s amazing what kids come up with, usually things we hadn’t considered.
- All children should “overhear” you bragging about their accomplishments.
It’s so easy to get fixated on the cycle of struggles, but focusing on even the smallest successes or acts of kindness helps a family build each other up.
So remember, don’t let your struggles bog you down.. Seek the right source of help. In the process, look out for yourself so that you can lookout for your child.
This will allow you to be the best parent your child could ask for.