A Parent’s Perspective: The Importance of Self-Care (not Self-Comfort)
Self-care has gotten a bad rap in recent years. I think it’s because there’s a focus on pampering yourself with bubble baths and pedicures that simply isn’t, nor can it be, the reality for many people. Those self-indulgent activities don’t care for you in a deep and lasting way. They comfort you in the moment. Self-care is a small but steady investment in yourself that allows you to recharge.
As parents of children with special needs, finding ways to practice good self-care is challenging. Our children demand so much from us. Yet, for us to be able to continue to provide them all they need, we must find ways to practice the type of ongoing self-care that sustains us.
There is a Difference Between Self-Care and Self-Comfort
Self-care is not a selfish act but a crucial component of being an effective parent and caregiver. Chose to care for yourself in a way that sustains you over the long-run and doesn’t just comfort you in the moment. By incorporating any one of these practices into your life, you will not only recharge and maintain your well-being but also create a positive and nurturing environment for both yourself and your child with autism.
It’s essential to remember that taking care of yourself is not a luxury but a necessity. Prioritizing self-care can help you recharge, maintain your well-being, and be the best caregiver possible. This blog post offers ten ways to practice self-care as a parent of a child with autism:
1. Establish a Routine
Create a dedicated time in your daily or weekly routine for self-care. Having a routine may be enjoying a cup of coffee in silence before your child wakes up, taking a brisk walk after your child leaves for school, or intentionally using a slice of time in your schedule to do something that you need to do or enjoy doing. Save those parts of your day for yourself. Knowing you have designated self-care time can help you stick to it and ensure you get the recharge you need.
2. Regular Exercise
Incorporating physical activity into your routine may be a powerful stress reliever. It doesn’t have to be intense and it doesn’t have to take long—simple activities like walking, yoga, or stretching can make a significant difference in your overall well-being. But if you are the type of person who benefits from a hard-core workout that makes you sweat, practice yours regularly and don’t feel guilty about it, knowing it is an investment in your physical, mental, and emotional self that will go a long way in helping you take care of your child.
3. Mindfulness and Relaxation
Practicing mindfulness or meditation techniques may bring mental clarity and relaxation. Even just 5-10 minutes a day focusing on your breath and choosing what you think about can have a profound impact on your stress levels. You may have a hard time slowing down enough to meditate. Instead of meditation, which is emptying your mind, try mindfulness that fills your mind with things that are good, right, and true.
4. Connect with Others
Schedule regular social time, even if it’s just a phone call or a quick coffee with a friend. Social media does not count. It can actually be counterproductive to self-care. You need a real person who has a positive, uplifting presence in your life. Connecting with others who understand your challenges, even if they don’t have a child with autism, can be therapeutic and provide a much-needed support system.
5. Hobbies and Interests
Rediscover or explore hobbies that bring you joy and fulfillment. Whether it’s reading, painting, gardening, or any other activity, having a personal interest can provide a much-needed escape and recharge your energy. This suggestion requires more intentionality and time, but even while raising a child with autism, it can be done. Choosing what you love to do probably isn’t the hard part; finding the time to do it is. Break it into manageable steps. It’s okay if you dedicate short bursts of time to what you love doing because, remember, self-care is a small and steady investment in yourself.
6. Respite Care
Utilize respite care services or a babysitter to give yourself a break. This request for help is one of the biggest struggles for us as parents. It’s hard to find someone we trust to care of our child and all of their unique needs. But it is possible! In the last blog, 5 New Year’s Resolutions for Parents of Children with Autism, one of the suggestions is to seek and accept help. Having time away, even for a couple of hours, can help you recharge and regain your energy, allowing you to return to your caregiving role with renewed strength. Respite often requires extra financial resources, but may be worth it because it’s an investment in you and your child.
7. Professional Support
Consider seeking professional help through therapy or counseling. Having a supportive therapist to talk to can provide valuable insights, guidance, and emotional support as you navigate the challenges of caregiving. If you are having a hard time finding a professional counselor, you may want to start by talking to the social worker at your child’s doctor’s office. Regardless of what type of professional you talk to, having a non-judgmental person to listen can be healing and helpful.
Another form of support is support groups. Finding a support group specifically tailored for parents of children with autism may be good self-care. Connecting with others who share similar experiences can provide a sense of community, understanding, and valuable insights into navigating the challenges you may face.
8. Set Boundaries
Learn to say no when needed and establish boundaries for your well-being and try not to feel guilty. Most people establish boundaries pretty easily (or think they do), but in a moment of pressure, they let their boundaries down because of guilt.
It’s important to prioritize your own needs and avoid overextending yourself, both physically and emotionally. This means it’s okay to not volunteer in your child’s classroom or not go to your parent’s house for dinner every Sunday night. You know what you need. No one else does, so only you are the one who can say no when you need to.
9. Quality Sleep
Prioritize getting enough sleep for optimal functioning. This is especially difficult for many parents of children with autism who don’t sleep well. You may not be able to get a solid eight hours every night, but do you have ten minutes to power nap each afternoon when your child is at school? Or, can you go to bed as soon as your child does and leave all that you could be doing until the next day? Knowing lack of sleep can significantly impact your ability to cope with stress and effectively care for your child, establish a bedtime routine and create a conducive sleep environment to ensure a restful night’s sleep. You may not always get a good night’s sleep, but set yourself up well so that when it does happen, you wake up feeling fully refreshed.
10. Find a Trusted ABA Provider
Finding the autism support your child needs is also a form of self-care. You can’t do it all alone. You need the help and support of trusted professionals. At ABA Connect, dedicated therapists understand the challenges you and your child face. Our therapists develop treatment plans to target your child’s greatest challenges, but they are also there to listen to the struggles you face and find ways to help you overcome them.
Remember, you deserve care and support, too. Take the necessary steps to prioritize self-care and seek assistance when needed. You are doing an incredible job, and we are here to support you every step of the way.
So, which self-care technique do you plan to implement for yourself?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you found this post helpful, please feel free to like, share, and follow us for more insightful content on autism and ABA therapy.
Disclaimer: While I am a consultant writing on behalf of ABA Connect, my child is not a current client. The views and experiences shared in this blog post are entirely from a parent’s perspective. My goal is to provide informative content and insights based on my personal experiences, as well as interviews conducted with the staff at ABA Connect.
Note: The information provided in this article is for general guidance and does not replace professional advice. Please consult with a healthcare professional or therapist for personalized guidance.