Are you a parent of a child with disabilities? Are you tired of hearing self-care tips that are not practical for your lifestyle? Look no further: Here are tried and true tips from a parent of neurodiverse children.
I'm a mom. A mom to three beautiful children. My youngest two kids are autistic, and that can present some additional challenges in this parenting journey. Over the years, I put my needs well below that of my children and spouse and experienced massive burnout. If you've read our Founder Story, you know I often coped by crying and drinking wine on my kitchen floor. After years of therapy, and working hard to take care of myself, I have picked up some tips along the way. I want to share them with you in the hopes it may help you find a little bit of balance or even just a few minutes of peace in your busy day.
Check out my tips for starting on your journey of self-care and putting your needs on the schedule.
The strategies that worked for me (and I hope you may find helpful too):
Engage in daily tasks that bring peace and joy but do them with intention. I vividly remember sitting in a counseling session sobbing about how I never had time to do anything for myself. Honestly, I was incredibly jealous of the moms I saw on Social Media that were getting pedicures, grabbing coffee with a friend, or seeing a show. I was in the thick of parenting young children and hadn't slept through the night in over 8 years. I spent my days running, literally running, to keep my kids alive. Whether it was chasing one into traffic or finger sweeping a mouth because yet again one of them put a plant or small object in their mouth, it felt constant. My therapist, who knew my family situation, listened intently, passed me a kleenex, and then offered me some practical advice. I still use this advice when the days are really hard.
She said, "You may not be able to practice "self-care" in the ways that others do. That is not practical for where you are in your parenting journey. But I encourage you to take small moments in the day for yourself. Honestly, some days you may only get a minute or two. Use them. Make a cup of tea. Take a deep breath, take a sip, and relax for that minute allowing yourself to only focus on this moment."
It sounds simple, but when I intentionally practiced self-care and labeled it as such, it allowed me to feel as if I was taking a step forward in putting my needs back on the priority list. I also lost the guilt associated with not practicing self-care because I knew I was doing what I was able to in the stage of parenting.
Leave the guilt at home. Once I put myself back on the priority list, I struggled to enjoy my time to myself. I felt as if I had to use it wisely and do something significant with it. I would spend more time fretting about what I should do with my time, and by the time it had finished, I was swept up with regret that I hadn't utilized every moment. I was stuck in thinking that the time off may be my last for a long time, so I should really make it count.
I encourage you to do what you want that day with your time. Whether it is a walk, a nap, watching daytime television, or grabbing lunch by yourself, do what makes you happy at that moment. And focus solely on yourself. Don't get swept up in thinking your time off needs to be Instagram-worthy, just focus on doing something small that brings you joy. And please, leave the guilt at home.
I also learned along the way that to help my anxiety and support time to myself, I needed to find an activity that was structured and that allowed me to not only get physical activity but meet people and be accountable for showing up. So, I took up running. I joined a local running group and carved out an hour a week to show up in person and do something to support my mental health. I may not be the fastest (lol, who are we kidding, you often find me at the very back of the group) but I am there. And I love it! I have met some amazing people in the run group and now not only do I get to run for an hour, but I get to chat with other women while we burn off some stress.
Know when to ask for help. Oh man, was this ever a hard thing for me. I struggled with this because I equated asking for help as a sign of weakness. It took me years to work through this and I am still working on this. Some things that I have done that have seemed to help, have been to realize that when others offer help, they mean it. They want to feel useful and be supportive, just like I would if I had offered to help someone. I have also learned to ask if they have the bandwidth for this right now, and what they would be able to take on. I know through this experience of having to reach out for help, that if I am now offering help to someone, I use specifics. Instead of asking, "How can I help?", I will say, "Can I drop off dinner tonight or tomorrow?" That way the person I am helping knows I am serious and knows what I am able to contribute. This gets easier when you have a group of people around you that love you and support you.
Find your people. Find the people that love you and love your family and nurture that connection. Friendships take work and you need to put the effort in to build and sustain one. But let me tell you, it absolutely pays off in the long run. I have found that I don't do well with chit-chat. Honestly, my life can be messy, and I want friends in my life with whom I can say exactly what is happening and have their support. But that means I need to also put in the effort to be a good friend as well. For me, that means sending texts to check in, inviting people over for dinner, remembering special events in their life, and showing up for them when it matters.
After we adopted our daughter, and we were really struggling with 3 kids under 5, I remember thinking that no one would want to stay on to be my friend and invite us over for dinner or gatherings. We were a hot mess as a family, often arriving in a whirlwind, someone was always screaming or crying. But my friends didn't let me off the hook so easily. They would offer to bring take-out over or offer to host so I had a break for an evening. They called, they texted, they showed up, and honestly, they are the reason we are where we are right now. I often say to my husband that I may not have a ton of friends, but the ones I have are absolute gems.
I hope some of these strategies may work for you. I would love to hear if you have any to add. I believe strongly that we need to support each other and lift each other up, and that means sharing tips if we have them. And please know, we created This World's Ours Centre to help support parents, as much as the kids. We hope that you will reach out to us if we are able to support you or just listen. Our dream was to be part of your community and a safe space to share your feelings and thoughts.
About the Author:
Koryn Heisler is a mom of three beautiful children and one of the owners and founders of This World's Ours Centre in the heart of Vancouver. When all else fails and she finds herself completely overwhelmed after a day at work, she makes a quick stop at the local gas station, buys candy and a carwash, and likes to sit quietly in the carwash for a few brief moments.