When we are about to take off on a flight, the flight attendants instruct us about our seat belts, emergency exits and oxygen masks. Few of us pay attention. We are busy settling a baby, telling our kids not to kick the seat in front of you and getting the DVD player rigged up. However, we are told if the oxygen mask drops from the compartment above to put your mask on first. Do you remember why? You can’t help your child/children if you don’t help yourself first and pass out from lack of oxygen. So why don’t we apply this in other areas of our lives that have taken flight in a direction we haven’t planned for? Especially if you have boarded the flight of a mom with a special needs child.
When we become mothers we often neglect ourselves as we care for our children. I am a mom of two little boys and ride the turbulent flight of health and learning problems for each one of my sons. It has taken time and effort to make sure both have proper care, Doctor’s, OT, PT, Speech, Learning Specialists, finding the right school, educating teachers about their needs, researching and being an advocate.
Maybe your experience began during pregnancy, when your child was born, in the NICU or during his/her first few years of life. You took on the role of being a mom and your child’s care needs are many: appointments, medication, daily functioning, nursing, emotional and social needs. You cope with crisis daily and are well versed in case management. You are struggling to look after your child/children, family and there is no time for you. As mothers we just put our head down and power through the turbulence… but what about the emotional and physical jet lag we experience? You are a mother, wife/partner, caregiver, advocate and expert on your child and children… but are you an expert on you?
Flight of a Mom with a Special Needs Child: 5 Ways to put your Oxygen Mask on First!
- Increase your energy….Mom’s Energy formula. You need more energy than other mom’s to navigate the flight plan for your special needs child. Here is a simple formula. Mom’s Emotional Health + Mom’s Physical health = Energy to Care. We need to be in good form and flight trained emotionally and physically to do what we have too.
- Get rid of your guilt. Sounds simple but this is a struggle for most mothers. Mommy guilt is huge. It can deplete and run you down. Guilt can tell you that you don’t deserve to take time away from your child, to talk to your friend, read a book for 10 minutes, take a nap, go out to dinner with your husband or bring in respite care for your child. Guilt can shame you into not looking after you. It eventually robs you of your emotional and physical reserves. You need to recharge, don’t feel guilty. You matter and if you are not doing well how can you look after everyone else?
- Prevent Emotional and Physical Jet Lag or it will catch up with you. Look after you. Moms often neglect the basics of eating, sleeping and getting exercise. I know this is sometimes easier said than done. Especially, when you have to make calls or go to doctor’s appointments or do physical therapy at home with your child. It is probably hard for you to say, but 10 minutes of you time is just as important as your child’s physical therapy. You can start with small steps: sitting down to eat for one meal a day, enjoying your coffee while chatting with a friend on the phone, going to bed earlier one night a week, a quick 10 minute workout or taking a walk by yourself. If you look after your physical needs it will help you cope emotionally. You will be more tolerant and stand up better under pressure and crisis.
- Find something for yourself. Working, volunteering or developing an interest. You may already do this but having something outside of your caregiver, mom role is very important. It insulates you and keeps you from crashing. If you have a reserve of interests you can tap into it. It will help you stay grounded and see beyond the overwhelming loving tasks you do as a caregiver. It is an investment in you and your ability to do what needs to be done.
- Ask for help. It is hard for Moms with special needs children to let go. You are the center of care for your child. You are the engine and propeller that makes everything run. To prevent an engine malfunction that sends you careening into the unknown, reach out. You are not alone. Seek respite care or find a camp that specializes in helping you and your child. Easter Seals Florida looks after the child and family as a whole. They will help you recharge and feel comfortable with the care your child is receiving while being away from you. This is not only a gift for you but your child too. Your child will gain independence, confidence, increase their social skills have fun and enjoy new experiences.
Is asking for help and letting go your biggest fear? It might be! But finding support could be the parachute you need; it will make the difference in your life, your child’s and your relationship with your spouse/partner.
Call Easter Seals Florida for more information on respite care or visit the website at www.fl.easterseals.com
If you would like more information about counseling and support for moms with special needs children please call Orlando Women’s Counseling with Life Counseling Solutions at 407-622-1770.
Easter Seals provides is the leading non-profit provider of services for individuals with autism, developmental disabilities, physical and mental disabilities, and other special needs. For more than 90 years, we have been offering help and hope to children and adults with disabilities, and to the families who love them.
About the Author: Marva Caldwell MA, LMHC, NCC