Self-Care for Parents of Children with Special Needs

Alethea Mshar
Special needs mom and Blogger
09/14/16  1:58 PM PST
Parents of Special Needs Children

Self-Care for Parents of Children with Special Needs

Parents of special needs children are at high risk for stress, fatigue and depression. Practicing good self-care can lower the risk and help you be there for your family.

As a mother of three kids – two with Down syndrome and one with complex medical needs – you don’t have to tell me twice that self-care is essential. I know I need to take care of myself in order to meet the needs of my family, not only today and tomorrow, but for years to come.

Despite knowing this, I often establish good habits, then watch them fall by the wayside when a crisis hits. But I don’t want taking care of myself to become a chore, something to check off a to-do list, either. Heaven knows, the list is long enough without adding anything else!

I have grappled with this over the years, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing miserably. During one of the more prolonged crises we had as a family, I realized that I was in a position of either finding ways to take care of myself or falling apart. I experienced caregiver fatigue, emotional burnout, anxiety, and depression, as well as physical symptoms of stress.

What is Self-Care for Parents of Children with Special Needs?

I wasn’t even familiar with the concept of self-care, so that was where I started. This explanation helped me understand what it really meant:

Self-care refers to activities and practices that we can engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short- and longer-term health and well-being.”

Which begs the question, “What are those activities and practices?” Self-care may be different for everyone, but the basic principles are below.

Self-Care Tips for Parents of Special Needs Children

  • Nutrition
    • Eat regular meals and snacks to keep your tank full and combat stress.
      • The complex carbohydrates and antioxidants in fruits and veggies (these can be fresh, dried or frozen), whole grains, nuts and seeds and other plant-based foods will keep you running strong.
      • Eating enough protein will keep your immune system healthy too. Get it from dairy, fish, lean meat and poultry, nuts and seeds and soy.
    • Drink plenty of water and other non-caffeinated beverages to stay hydrated.
  • Rest and relaxation
    • If these words haven’t been in your vocabulary, respite care from professionals or family and friends may help you achieve this.
  • Exercise
    • Believe it or not, this will help you rest and relax!
  • Personal hygiene
    • It happens. Next thing you know you haven’t showered/shaved/brushed your teeth all day and you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck.
    • Taking care of basic daily tasks is rule #1 of caregiving!
  • Interpersonal connection
    • Feeling connected to others, whether via support groups, friends and family or a trip to the grocery store is vital to your well-being.

There have been times when I’ve been unable to accomplish any, let alone all of these things. If that’s where you are today, please know that you’re not alone, and don’t feel guilty, you’re doing the best you can!

Start slowly, with the one item on the list that seems most doable, and give yourself permission to take the time to do it. When you can, little by little, add in more.

Most importantly, don’t make it another burden! You will fall off the wagon at times. When you do, pick yourself up and try again. You might need to ask for help, and if you’re like me, that sounds like a nightmare, but it’s so worth it!  Sometimes a plea for help on Facebook is all it takes to bring help you didn’t know existed, even when it’s hard to ask.

Most importantly, you’re worth it. Your family needs you, and you are valuable enough to make sure you’re the best version of yourself possible.

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  1. THANK YOU for sharing your story and for reminding me how important it is to take care of myself. Others have told me that…but it doesn’t mean the same coming from someone who has NO IDEA what it’s like in my world! I am a single mom of a precious little guy who has Down Syndrome and Celiac Disease and Perthes Disease and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

    I am especially grateful for your encouragement to ask for help!! It’s true, it is SO HARD TO ASK…especially when you don’t know who to ask or where to look for help. I have a lot of health issues myself and one of the worst is needing help so badly but having anxiety when someone is around!

    Thank you again, I wish you and your family the best.

    Dawn Hart

  2. I understand the pressures of stress, fatigue, depression and so on. December 2015, I began to feel terrible headaches in the center of my forehead crossing through my right eye. At first, I thought is was just a cold coming on, but little did I realize it was far worse than that! What turn out to be flu symptoms was actually “shingles”. The Dr. told me that when people get shingles on the face it is STRESS!!
    For the next 4 months my face swelled up, I was contagious and the pain was so sever all I was able to do is open my eye for a few moments then go right to sleep. I was unable to care for my son, who suffers from seizures, mild cerebral palsy and is severely mentally challenged. It took this for me to start listening to my body.
    I was exercising and taking the finest supplements, but as I realized stress is a killer and if you don’t care for your mind, your body & soul fail as well. I now have more patients and had to change my thought process as far as I don’t have to do everything, I learned to ask for help and learned to say “no”. My family sees a big difference in me and I feel better and lighter because I have much more understanding how precious and smart our bodies are. I was left with a small scar on my forehead as reminder to listen to my body and rest!

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