Self-Care is Not Selfish: Finding a Way to Take Care of Yourself
Tags: News and Advice
Bernadette Murphy Bentley, MPA
The month of May brings us Mother’s Day, the one day a year where moms allow others to do for them—bring us out to eat, lavish us with cards and gifts, and even give us the day off. “Sit down, put your feet up, here’s a box of chocolates, we’ll take care of everything!” is one of the nicest presents any mother can receive, even when we are shuddering at the thought of anyone else taking care of anything!
For all mothers, especially those raising children with autism spectrum disorders, it is essential that you dedicate a portion of every day to yourself. After the rush of getting the kids to school, yourself off to work, tackling the never-ending To-Do list, fitting in all the errands, packing lunches and putting food on the table, helping kids with their homework, paying bills, dealing with school problems, and finally getting the kids bathed and to sleep, there is practically no time left before our heads hit the pillow and we try to clear our minds enough to sleep.
However, if you don’t fit in some time for your own daily renewal, you can’t do your best and continue to provide what you and your family need. Chantal Sicile-Kira, a well-known author of many books about autism, says, “Parents, you need to take care of yourselves. As a parent, the family unit depends on you. No discussion of a healthy family unit can take place without considering the well-being of the parent or parents.”
The challenge for many mothers, though, is two-fold: giving themselves permission to take time for themselves, and then finding the resources to make it happen.
Advice from the Experts
Susan Senator, a Boston-area mother of a young man with autism and the author of several books including one of my favorites, The Autism Mom’s Survival Guide: Creating a Full and Balanced Life while Raising a Child with Autism, explains why taking care of yourself is so important in her chapter titled, “Me, Myself, and I.”
"It is not shameful to do things for yourself, and to want to be the star sometimes. It is not being selfish; it is being self-caring. What’s more, it is absolutely imperative; not just because we’ll be better mothers after we’ve been good to ourselves, but because we need to do this to be full human beings. Our children are a part of us, but they are not all of us. We don’t have to feel guilty for putting them aside for awhile thinking only about ourselves."
The authors of another one of my favorite books, More Than a Mom: Living a Full and Balanced Life When Your Child Has Special Needs, devote a chapter to self-care titled, “Put Yourself on the To-Do List.” They provide readers with the following wise guidance.
"In order to take care of your family, you need to continuously rejuvenate yourself. For the sake of your health, you need to care for not just your body, but your emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual sides too the better you feel, the better you can care for your family. Unless you take time to nurture your own needs, you can end up feeling resentful, burdened, and depressed."
Both of these books provide many strategies for self-care and easy, no-cost, or inexpensive ways to achieve them. I encourage you to borrow them from your library or autism support center to learn more. They are also available from bookstores and online.
In addition, you can find self-care strategies online in the “Caring for the Caregiver” section of the Autism Speaks 100 Day Kit.
So, now that you know how important it is to take care of yourself, how do you do it?
Finding Resources for Self-Care
For every mom, self-care will be different. You may enjoy meditation or yoga, listening to music, gardening, seeing a therapist or counselor, going for a walk or to the gym, reading a favorite book or watching a favorite TV show, attending religious services, or connecting with friends online or on the phone. Or, you may like participating in a book club, playing basketball, keeping a journal, sleeping in on Saturdays, practicing mindfulness and stress reduction, getting a massage or taking a long bath, or going out with “the girls.” I like to armchair travel—watch the National Geographic channel, take out books from the library about places I want to go, and research the best sites and attractions for when I eventually do go on my journey. The goal is to find the method of self-care that works for you, and then build it into your day or week.
But what if you need a real break from parenting? Susan Senator recommends using “lifelines”. Lifelines are people who are not your spouse or partner but who understand your child and “get” autism—someone with whom you can leave your kids so you can refresh for awhile and not worry about them. If you don’t have extended family or friends who can be your lifeline, a babysitter or respite care can be the solution. But how can you afford it and where can you find qualified, trustworthy people?
The authors of More Than a Mom recommend the following approaches:
- Start with your family, friends, neighbors, and your child’s classmates’ parents. Anyone of these might have a great connection that they never thought of until you asked.
- Join a local autism parent support group (you can find one by calling your autism support center) and ask other members for recommendations. You can also sign up with your district’s Parent Advisory Council (PAC) and ask those parents as well.
- Put an ad in your local newspaper detailing the expertise you need, and also ask for childcare recommendations from any of the online autism parent groups you belong to.
- Put a “childcare needed” notice in nearby religious institutions such as churches or synagogues, in your local library, and in colleges or universities with special education programs.
- Ask your child’s pediatrician, teachers, Early Intervention workers, and therapists for recommendations. See if the aides in your child’s class, or the assistants in your child’s toddler group, are allowed to babysit.
- If your employer is large and has an Employee Assistance Program, ask them to help you find quality childcare.
- Search in your phone book and online for special needs’ caretakers, and also look into nanny and child care referral agencies. Be sure to ask for references from other parents who have used their services.
- Contact your local chapter of the ARC, 17 community organizations throughout Massachusetts that provides support and services to people with disabilities and their families.
Here are some additional resources that might help:
- Family Voices has a terrific brochure titled, Getting a Break: A Roadmap to Respite Care for Massachusetts Families of Children with Special Health Care Needs that contains strategies from parents who were successful in making the most of limited respite resources.
- Arch Respite provides an online database of respite providers in your area, and also explains out how to pay for respite, available Medicaid Waivers, eligibility criteria for various state funding sources, and links to sites where you can apply for funding or get more information.
- The Child Autism Parent Café has some creative ideas for getting good respite providers for your child.
- You can also search Care.com for babysitters and nannies in your area who have experience with children with special needs.
- Autism Speaks has suggestions for how to find a respite worker, and also offers a database that you can search for caretakers in your area.
- Child Care Aware is a nonprofit agency with a searchable database of local child care resource and referral agencies. They can also help you find quality child care when you call them at (800) 424-2246.
Putting You First
Once you get used to taking a little time for yourself each day, you will find that it becomes part of your daily routine, which you won’t want to skip. Experts say it takes three months to develop a new habit and during that time, it is easy to get frustrated and quit. Don’t give up! The benefits to you and your family are well worth it. Mother’s Day is the perfect time to make a commitment to yourself and improve your life, so go for it!