#1 Don’t spend enough time just being a mom
Trust me. I know how it is (and I have been guilty of it myself). You get so wrapped up in wanting to provide your child with the best outcomes, that you put on your therapist hat for every waking moment (when you’re not wearing your taxi driver hat). I know I don’t have to tell you why it is important to reach a balance between being a “therapist” and being a mom, but I do want to bring attention to the heavy guilt we moms carry if we are not using every spare second for programming.
Before I had children and was working as a pediatric Occupational Therapist full-time, I had no clue of the intense sense of emergency parents felt with regard to carrying out my recommendations to a T. Now that I have been a parent on the receiving end, I wish I would have put equal value on recommending that moms share quality time in pure joy, without any expectations or goals, other than connecting in love with their child.
Our children need to feel that they are loved for simply existing and that we cherish their presence in our lives. I am giving you permission, (no, urging you actually), to indulge in nothingness together!
#2 Don’t get the right type of respite
I’m sorry, but taking a bubble bath, watching Netflix (at ungodly hours), folding laundry uninterrupted, watering your garden, or even going to the gym 3 times a week, does not constitute proper respite for the intense life we moms of children with special needs lead. Sure, all these things provide much-needed relief throughout the long days, and it certainly can be argued that it is better than nothing, but our nervous system requires way more time to recuperate and reset.
Take advantage of those funded respite hours and schedule regular overnights away. It may sound excessive, but it is ideal to rest for 12 hours once every 2 weeks, and a full 24 hours-48 hours once a month to every 6 weeks, depending on the severity of our child’s needs. If you think I’m crazy, then read on to mistake #3.
#3 Minimize your risk for depression
Being exhausted and feeling numb is pretty much the standard for moms of children with special needs. It becomes so “normal” that we almost expect it and don’t notice the subtle and gradual changes in our health, and worsening of symptoms with our moods, (if and when they occur).
Don’t think yourself immune! All moms of children with special needs are at a higher risk for depression. You can’t afford to notice if you are slipping Do you have a way to monitor yourself? Do you have a plan in place in case you do? If not, get on that pronto!
#4 Think that your child’s social time isn’t as important as therapy time
Just like adults, children measure their quality of life by the quality of their relationships. Their soul happiness depends on it and this should never be underestimated.
If you think that your aides, teachers, and therapists count as your child’s friends, (as well as social time), you are mistaken. It is imperative that you incorporate plenty of authentic relationship-building time with peers that have the potential to be real friends. It might require searching for resources like a playdate or social mediator, but it is well worth the effort.
#5 Take your other children’s smaller accomplishments for granted
Siblings of children with special needs are among some of the sweetest, most well-adjusted, sensitive beings you will ever meet. There are many reasons for this, including that they have had to learn the importance of thinking of others earlier than their peers, thus speeding up their maturity. But sometimes it’s at a cost…
Like many other parents, we used rewards as incentives for our child’s cooperation in therapies, amongst other things. When my middle daughter was 5, she asked “mommy, I do everything right, but I never get a prize. Are you not proud of me?” This broke my heart, especially since I had always made a conscious effort to split my time equally between my children.
Studies show that siblings of children with special needs can sometimes grow up to be people-pleasers at the expense of their own needs. It is also possible to see them develop a tendency to be hard on themselves. My advice is to express your love and appreciation by removing the need for praise to be related to a performance outcome. For example, instead of saying “I am so proud of you for how well you played the piano at your recital”, try saying, “it fills me with joy to see you so happy doing something you love! I feel so lucky to be your mom and to share this moment with you! Let’s go have ice cream!”
#6 Neglect to actively nurture your soul
Although it often feels all-encompassing, being a mom of a child with special needs is not all that we are! Sure, caregiving can be quite rewarding at times, however, it is of uttermost importance to keep in touch with the unique and separate parts of yourself that make you feel genuinely connected to life. Without that essential personal soulful connection, it will prove very challenging, if not impossible to maintain your caregiving stamina without seriously increasing your risk for burnout.
If you have lost your connection, or have forgotten what it is that feeds your soul, I urge you to work on getting your horsepower back! If not for yourself, then for your child. Not thinking of yourself in this case, can be selfish.
I can help…