Years ago when I ran a parent support group for special needs, I typed up "Things To Do For Yourself," AND I also created "What Constitutes a Break" to make sure that moms out there don't think "OH I have 10 minutes of downtime so I will fold laundry or put away dishes"--that is NOT a break! I will post the second article on another blog post because this one would get too long if I did!
So, why do we need to take care of ourselves FIRST? Have you heard about "putting on the oxygen mask first before helping the child next to you"? It's what they instruct on airplanes---if you don't put on the oxygen mask that falls to your face in an airplane in trouble, you will not survive and then not BE ABLE to help the child sitting next to you! I fully understand this notion, having almost had a nervous breakdown (twice) trying to help my son when he was young and I was not taking breaks. But I like THIS analogy better, taken from a mom quoted in the book More Than a Mom: Living a Full and Balanced Life When Your Child Has Special Needs, by Amy Baskin and Heather Fawcett:
"I look at my energy and emotions like a big water pitcher. Every time I care for my family, I pour out my pitcher. Unless I take time to put something back--by having my hair done, going window shopping, seeing a movie with friends, making Friday "date night" with my husband, or taking a community college class--my pitcher empties. You cannot give what you don't have in store. Exhaustion and frustration causes you to become irritable, edgy, and angry. Keep your pitcher filled!!!"
I know we are in the middle of COVID19 and so yeah--none of her suggestions can be done right now--but what about watching/streaming a new release movie or TV show after the kids are in bed (maybe with a glass of wine). How about doing your own nails or at-home spa treatments to pamper yourself or doing at-home spa treatments (here's some cheap./easy ways to do this: https://www.thepennyhoarder.com/save-money/diy-spa-day-for-cheap/). How about joining an online book club--I was part of several live book clubs and they're all meeting online now! How about video chatting with a friend?
Here is a list that I gave out on "Things To Do For Yourself"--remember, ESPECIALLY in times of heavy stress, WE NEED TO TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES FIRST!
Things to Do for Yourself
(particularly during the stressful times of the year)
* Take a “Vacation Day” for yourself—all day on a Saturday—ex. If you feel your child does not like holiday time, but you always enjoyed it, plan a “holiday day” for yourself, including seeing a show like “The Nutcracker” and holiday shopping or a tour of decorated homes and a Xmas lunch w/a friend (that's what I do, as my kiddo with high functioning autism has never been interested in Christmas!)
* Try Meditation exercises, for starting your day and for when your child is particularly in your face and you need to calm down fast
* Schedule More Breaks than usual, more fun things to do (movies, breakfast, lunch w/friends, shopping trips, get a massage, mani/pedi, etc, go walking in a favorite park or spot that brings you joy and peace--for me, it's the local Harbor)
* DO NOT TAKE ON ANY NEW PROJECTS at this time. Even if they seem fun/interesting.
* Try to Minimize/Cut Down on Obligations:
Ex: holiday cards—go through a site that does it all up for you and mails it out too OR send electronic cards; holiday set up—do you need to do elaborate lights outside? Decos inside? Get the rest of the family to help put it all up; Gifts for teachers/therapists/etc--get prewrapped gifts such as Godiva or other chocolates sold in the stores, or gift cards, instead of baking for everyone (unless you truly enjoy that/find it relaxing).
Look at every obligation w/scrutiny and ask, do I NEED to do that, and if so, how can it be most expediently done while taking up the least amount of my time? (you are looking to “cut corners”)
* Minimize Chores: Get grocery delivery, cleaning help, housekeeping, if your sitter comes ask her after kids go to bed to fold laundry, look for help even if you use it for just a short period of time to get thru the tough time of year (such as end of year or end of school year)
* STAY AWAY FROM STRESSFUL PEOPLE: People who are unsupportive--limit your time with them. You do NOT need to hear about how they do not understand what you're going through, or how they think you should be doing more, or doing this, that or the other thing.
* HAVE A GOOD CRY about the situation (autism and how it affects the holidays, for ex)—about the disappointment, upset, guilt and hard times you go thru this time of year—DO NOT deny yourself (write it down, shout it out, whatever you need to do—we all go thru the grieving process over and over throughout the lifespan of our special needs child and it’s OK and normal to feel such grief)
* Schedule “Downtime Days” – which are different from making more plans or having more breaks---this would be a “mental health day” but WITHOUT hard fast plans. Let yourself have NO PLANS and just stay home in your slippers and do WHATEVER you want to do (whether it be watch soap operas or fold laundry, whatever makes you happy/calm). OR in this time of COVID lockdowns--maybe get OUT of the house, and take a nice long walk around the neighborhood or drive to a pretty park and experience nature.
* Find ONE “Good Time” thing to do with your child in which maybe both of you can have a good time interacting and connect (It’s important when things are difficult, such as during a difficult time of the year for your child where you can get agitated and need more breaks, that you still connect on some level in a positive way.)
* Hang With Supportive Friends who understand this situation and can empathize--it’s OK to feel sad sometimes and like you can’t handle it. Find people who will be supportive and not “brush you off" or minimize your feelings.
* Make Sure Childcare is Scheduled -- and often, if it’s over a school break, or right before a school break, so that you can have downtime and time to recharge (hire a sitter, or use childcare or drop-off gym programs for parent’s night out or drop-off gym camp programs, or perhaps the kids could visit with the cousins/other relatives for a while)
Remember--you need to "put on the oxygen mask first" before helping others--so go, take care of yourself--you deserve it!!!