Being a parent is one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. Those of us who have chosen this career are doing the best we can to become the parent we want to be. Every parenting situation is unique and all children present their own challenges but if you have a child on the autism spectrum, you are parenting at a more demanding level.
Now add being a caregiver to your elderly parents to your current position as parent of a child with special needs. I am sure you have heard people refer to this as the sandwich generation – a generation caught in the middle of caring for the young and the old. Despite the fact that this may be a reality that many baby boomers have to face, doing double duty such as this adds another layer of complication to the mix.
Are you a parent who is juggling all three hats – parenting your children, caring for a child with autism, and caregiver for your adult parents? Wait a minute; let’s not forget a job to pay all the bills – that makes four hats to juggle! If you haven’t yet mastered the typical two-hat juggling act of being a parent and having a job, then being in a position of double or triple duty caregiver is like juggling a goldfish bowl without spilling a drop of water.
If you think I am exaggerating, then you obviously have not been there yet. Being in a position such as this IS extremely difficult for any parent to manage yet one can survive and make it more manageable and less stressful if one remembers this powerful secret – taking care of number one, YOU!
As a mom with all of this on your plate, taking care of yourself and giving yourself opportunities to refresh and renew are extremely important. One way to do this is to make every day Mother’s Day by giving yourself the gift of self-care. You need to keep your tank full so you can have something to offer others. Running on empty does no one any good but everyone benefits when you take care of yourself!
If you do not have a self-care routine in place or are having trouble establishing one, here are a few tips to keep in mind that will increase your chances of success.
1) Know thyself. In choosing a self-care goal, you want be in touch with your inner desires. You want to select what would be the most helpful or meaningful to “you” right now. Knowing thyself is key – you need to learn to trust your inner voice and listen to your wise self in order to ID ‘your’ needs, desires, values and priorities. Knowing it is good for you is one thing but wanting it is another. Focus on what fuels you, not what drains you – What are your passions? How can you bring your passion to the forefront of your day, your week, your month? Is it finding time for your creative expression? Do you want to increase the health and fitness of yourself or your family? Do you want to feel more connected to your spiritual self?
2) Identify barriers ahead of time. In order to increase your chances of success, it is important to anticipate and address any barriers before you begin, so they can be minimized or eliminated. Sometimes we raise blocks for ourselves, we think of a history of failed attempts, of economic limiters, time limiters, or other things. Take a moment to answer the question… “What would have to change in my life in order for this new self-care goal to become a habit?”
3) Eliminate the word selfish from your vocabulary. Let’s remember that pursuing self-care is not selfish. On an airplane they tell us to get the oxygen mask on ourselves first and then assist children and elderly. We are no good to others if we are running out of breath! We are not our best selves if we are stressed, overwhelmed, or sick and tired of being sick and tired. Taking care of you is not a selfish act. Selfish is on a continuum – the challenge is to stay in the middle, balanced between extreme selfishness and continuously sacrificing your needs. Litmus test: If it indirectly benefits your children/family somehow, it is not selfish!
4) Anticipate the benefits. Take note of the many benefits that taking better care of yourself will have on you as well as the good that will spill over to others! Make a mental note or written list of the positive effects it will have on your family; how it will build your smile muscle and how contagious that is, an increased capacity for patience, and any other benefits which come to mind. Keep this list in front of you…! Stick it on the computer, the refrigerator or perhaps the bathroom mirror?
5) Get your support team in place! Have your team members cheer you on. Even a one-person cheerleading section will do. Whenever you are trying to establish a new routine it helps to have people who will support your efforts. Once you identify your supporters – friends or family – make sure you communicate your new self-care goals to them. Have them remind you or nag you if they must. Sharing your goals and getting their support will help keep you on track.
I encourage you to take one baby step towards expanding your self-care routine today by choosing one thing and one thing only to add to your daily schedule. Keep it realistic and remind yourself of the benefits that will overflow to your loved ones as a result of doing something for yourself. Learning to maintain your balance by taking care of yourself will definitely help you balance that goldfish bowl without losing too much water.
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Imagine less worries and concerns as a parent of a child on the Autism spectrum… and more happiness and joyful times as a family. That’s what you get when you have the support of Connie Hammer, expert parent educator and coach. For more than twenty years, this licensed social worker has worked with families to create opportunities that open possibilities for more love, more fun and more contentment, regardless of disability. To find out how she can help you build your self-care toolbox and take your parenting to the next level visit her website at http://www.parentcoachingforautism.com or sign up for her free ecourse, Parenting a Child with Autism, 3 Secrets to Thrive
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