Being a parent is both incredibly rewarding and also exceptionally challenging. Being a parent to a child with complex needs can often amplify those feelings; with many parents experiencing profound joy when their child meets a new milestone and extreme lows when a new challenge arises.
Practicing self-care is important for all parents, but it is essential parents caring for a child with exceptionalities. Most autism parents are working around the clock. You know your child best, are the strongest advocate and biggest source of comfort. It can be difficult to carve out time for yourself when you have such an important role.
While monthly spa days or frequent lunches out with friends may not be realistic for you, self-care can take many different forms. Here are our favourite self-care tips that don’t require an abundance of time:
Connect with a community
Connecting with like-minded parents who are on the same journey can be incredibly important. This could look like joining an in-person support group in your area or connecting with an online community of local parents. Being able to learn from parents who have already navigated systems and challenges you are facing can make you feel less alone. Trading tips and tricks, product suggestions and stories can make day to day life a little bit easier. While having a wide range of supports and professionals in your family’s lives is important, there is no replacement to talking to someone who truly “gets it.”
Building a routine
Building a routine and predictability into your days can be beneficial for both you and your child. Within this routine, you can
Access respite supports
Having time to yourself, even just a few hours weekly, can be beneficial for your well-being. Accessing trusted respite support in your community can allow you to go out alone and do something for yourself that you wouldn’t be able to do while caregiving. Some parents find that having a support worker take their child on a fun outing so that they can spend a few hours alone at home is equally beneficial for their mental health.
Clearly communicating your needs
Your friends and family can be well meaning, but they are not mind readers. Get comfortable advocating for what is best for your family. Maybe meeting your friends and their kids at a restaurant won’t work for your family, but meeting them at an indoor play place will allow your child to enjoy themselves so that you can connect with the adults. Asking in advance if friends and family can make accommodations for your child will alleviate some of your anxiety about outings and events. You may be surprised by how helpful and accommodating people are once they have clear instructions on what you and your child need from them.
Press the unfollow button
While sometimes it is helpful to follow parents and parenting accounts on social media, it can also be detrimental to your mental health. Trying to follow advice from parenting accounts that just doesn’t work for you child can be frustrating for both of you, and following parents, especially fellow autism parents, who seemingly have it all together can be disheartening. If following a mom who has a $10,000 sensory room, goes on monthly trips with her friends, somehow has time to do her hair every day, and always has her children dressed in matching outfits makes you feel like you are not doing enough, unfollow her!