From the moment you wake up until the time you rest your head upon your pillow at night, your day is filled with the responsibilities of caring for your sick kid (or sick children!), and their brothers and sisters. Treatment, therapy, medical appointments, or school issues, not to mention the day to day necessities of taking care of a home and making a living. As you haul that last load of laundry up the stairs or fall into bed at night, you find yourself wondering, “When is it time for ME?”
That’s more than the question of the hour. For parents, and especially parents of children who have illnesses or special needs, taking time for oneself is critically important. And while it may seem to go against your nature, putting yourself first at times can be the best thing you can do for your child.
As a parent, you are your child’s role model. You set the example for your children and you set the tone in the home. If you are calm, if you are coping, you model that behavior for your family.
I’m not forgetting the Catch-22 of parenting a sick child. The more extensive the health and welfare needs of your children, the more time they will need. No matter what we do, there are only 24 hours in a day. So how can you carve some precious time for ourselves?
The first step is recognizing that you need a break. A recent kidshealth.org article pointed out that none of us are superhuman. While we may be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, none of us can do that while simultaneously sitting at a child’s bedside, preparing meals, and schlepping to the doctor. No one can do it all. And even the most fuel-efficient cars need gas (or recharging!) sometimes.
Accept that accepting help is a sign of strength.
Very few of us like appearing of feeling weak. So remember: asking for help and accepting assistance is a sign of strength. Remember the “It takes a village to raise a child” line? It’s true. And the larger your village, the better off your family will be.
Look around. Who can help and when can that those people take over for a bit? It might be a spouse, siblings, parents, friends, or community resources, but there is usually at least one person who can run errands, babysit, drive a sibling to dance lessons…do something. Yes, it means giving up some control. And let’s face it, not everyone will do it as well as you. But if it gives you some breathing room, your children will be able to manage one more pizza or pasta supper.
Find something to do that will quiet your mind and rejuvenate your spirit.
Go to the movies. Lock yourself in a room and read for 20 minutes. Take everyone’s advice and exercise. Try yoga, walking, or cycling. Go out with your spouse for a leisurely meal. Take a long bath. Everyone will offer you advice – and lots of clichés. The trick is to find what works for you. Taking time for yourself means disengaging from the constant pressure, and only you can find the solution that works.
This is a truism that is really true. Non-stop caregiving can wear you down emotionally and physically. So eat right, exercise (even if that means just taking a short walk after dinner), and try to get enough rest. Give up late night TV and turn off your computer in favor of sleeping.
Don’t try for perfection.
British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott coined the phrase “the good enough mother” to describe the triumphs of ordinary parenting: giving children love, structure, encouragement, and confidence. Even if we could be perfect, it wouldn’t be an optimal way to parent. Our children need to see that we take care of ourselves or they risk confusing continual self-sacrifice with love for them and self-love.