We all to one extent or another face difficult times. We have had to learn how to navigate through challenging situations and go on with our lives… some people seemingly have the ability to manage this better than others.
As a caregiver and parent of a special-needs child, we are tasked with managing the demanding, overwhelming and repetitive daily schedules and behaviors of our children which can greatly affect our own mental health. Somewhere along the way, with our focus often centered around checking off the milestones and achievements shown by our very resilient children, we might fail to recognize that as special-needs parents, we too represent the true definition of resilience – mentally tough parents who recover quickly from the biggest of setbacks or challenges.
Role modeling for the family.
Resilience isn’t something we’re born with. It is developed over time through experience and learning. How we react to life’s challenges, like now with a worldwide pandemic causing unmeasurable amounts of stress on parents and kids alike, is what determines resilience. Becoming aware of our daily thoughts, feelings, actions and words allows us to gain perspective and reframe situations to be less stressful and problematic for those around us – particularly our special-needs children who often look to us for understanding social cues and responses. If you remain unaware of your behaviors and attitude, you’re likely to find yourself demonstrating anger, frustration and dread as if you’re stuck on a negative hamster wheel.
Over the past four to five months, our resilience and the resilience of our children has been heavily tested - with mask wearing, ‘virtual learning’ and unprecedented schedule changes. However, we have a duty to continue modeling flexibility for our children. Teaching them to manage the various curve balls life continuously throws at us with optimism will alter their perspective and mood regarding disruption and change.
5 Tips for Gaining Perspective and Inspiration during times of chaos.
- Focus on the here and now. It is likely that your special-needs child has achieved many milestones that you have forgotten or dismissed because you are focusing on skills they may have ‘lost’ over the last few months. Parents have always played a critical role in the growth their children experience by continuing to reinforce therapy practices at home – so, give yourself some credit. I encourage you to dig out old notes or photos of your child learning to crawl, walk, point, eat more than 2 foods, hold your hand, sit in a chair unassisted, etc… then strap on your ‘therapist hat’ to assist them with where they are today just as you did all those years before. Remembering how much resilience and determination your child mustered to achieve all that they have to this point should give you the confidence that they will continue to learn even in a ‘remodeled’ teaching environment.
- Learn to ask for help. Your child is not the first to: get a diagnosis, start and stop various treatments, change a medication, exhibit challenging behaviors or move to supported living. Remember, many others have gone before you and can provide support through their personal experiences. The parenting special-needs community is quite large so do yourself a favor and join some social media groups, take advantage of the many resources available and share your frustrations & personal stories with the thousands who can truly relate! Please don’t try to tackle everything alone… it will mentally break you.
- Patience, patience, patience. There’s a reason that “patience is a virtue.” We are not born patient. Like resilience, patience is actually a learned behavior through life experiences. In today’s society, we have come to expect the instantaneous, the rapid, the get-it-done now. We are simply impatient people. While patience does not give you the power over circumstances, it you accept both how you feel about a given situation and what you can realistically do about it. When you feel that impatience building like hot steam about to billow out of your ears, walk away. Allow yourself a few moments to be ALONE! Take that time to breathe, gather yourself and evaluate your expectations.
- Make yourself a priority. This is an area most parents, especially moms struggle most. If you want to be the best parent you can be, you must allow yourself time to recharge your batteries. Give yourself permission to take 5-10 minutes each day strictly for yourself! You may say “there’s no way I can find even 5 minutes for myself,” to which I’d say look harder because where there’s a will, there’s a way. Either do something that relaxes you (reading a few pages of a book you’re interested in while listening to soothing music) or find something that rejuvenates you like exercise (a quick walk around the block or some simple stretching). If you are a single parent or someone who struggles to find a second of alone time in your day, invite your kids to join along in an activity that’s fun for everyone – like a family dance party!
- Take care of your relationship. Parents who are exhausted, which is likely ALL of us, forget to work on their relationship which can lead to irritation with one another and poor communication. Remaining flexible and working together to divide up tasks and alternate who will attend the various medical appointments or assist with therapy programs can keep parents from feeling overwhelmed and resentful. If one of you is more patient at the beginning of the day (definitely NOT me!) and the other more patient at night (definitely me!), use that knowledge to your advantage. As important as it is to find a few minutes for yourself, it’s equally important to find time to be together to chat about anything other than your children. Schedule that into the calendar if you have to, but make the time to support and listen to one another.