What is parental maintenance? In a nutshell, t’s making sure that you’re taking care of your own needs. All parents have been there. Whether it’s sleepless babies, illness, high-maintenance kids, or kids with disabilities, we all end up sleep-deprived, exhausted, and overwhelmed at some point in our parenting lives. I’m sure you’ve all heard that you can’t take care of anyone else if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
Let me give you a little background about my own experiences as a parent. I have 4 sons, 3 of whom are Autistic or have Aspergers, along with other disorders that are co-morbid with these disorders. Learning disabilities mean I have to get very involved with helping them with homework. Behavioral issues mean a lot more hands-on parenting and vigilance. The sleepless nights that are typical for children with Autism mean exhaustion. As a single parent with an Acquired Brain Injury, Fibromyalgia, Osteoporosis, and Arthritis, I’m also faced with other, personal challenges with my own health that mean I have very little time for myself, but I’ve learned how to make sure that I take care of my needs at the same time as I’m making sure that their needs are met. How do I do it? Read on…
Sleep While They are at School
Two of my kids have sleep issues, but one has more serious problems with sleep than the other. It takes him a long time to fall asleep, and he comes into my room several times a night when he’s unable to doze off, usually until around midnight or 1:00 am. The nights that he is able to fall asleep, he tends to wake up around 2:30 am, and is unable to go back to sleep until around 4:30 or 5:00 am. This doesn’t happen every night, but he goes through cycles of poor sleep for several nights, then a good sleep for 1-2 nights. I bought him a Garmin Vivofit Junior to help track his sleep (as well as keep him on-point with behavior and chores), and was able to track his sleep issues and find a pattern. Because I’m not working outside the home, I’m able to make up for lost sleep some days by taking a good nap after the kids leave for school, or in the afternoon. I used to get panicky when I wasn’t getting enough sleep, but I have learned to accept that my sleep will be broken most of the time, and that it’s okay to take naps to ensure that I’m capable of functioning when they come home instead of being a zombie. Sleep deprivation can cause a lot of issues, including depression, an inability to think clearly, impaired ability to drive, irritability, and more. Never feel guilty for accepting that you need to catch up on lost sleep, because taking care of your kids is difficult when you’re sleep deprived.
Get Outside Help
Whether you’re just dealing with a baby that doesn’t sleep much, kids with sleep issues, or your own disabilities, getting outside help is often a great way to take some of the load off you. Relatives can give you a break by taking over some of your responsibilities from time to time to give you a break, whether it’s babysitting for a few hours so you can sleep, go out shopping without a screaming baby, or even just have time for an uninterrupted shower or a bath. You can also hire a housekeeper to give your house a good clean once a week to get you through rough patches, and, if your children are disabled, you should look into funding that will cover housekeeping, tutors, Behavioral Therapists that will come into your home, and Special Service Workers (SSW’s). Depending on where you live, you may receive direct support (you don’t pay at all for these services) or indirect funding (you have an allotment of money from the government to hire and pay these workers directly, then submit a claim that you will be reimbursed for). In Ontario, Special Services at Home provides us with $4400 annually for these services, and I also take advantage of in-home care that is covered by the government (Behavioral Therapy). Wherever you live, have a look around online to see what is available to you. If you or your spouse is a Canadian Forces member, the MIlitary Family Resource Centre (MFRC) will act as a hub for services for you, and can arrange and cover most services, including Psycho-educational testing, and home care! You may really have to dig, but asking other parents and contacting organizations that work with kids and adults with specific disabilities (i.e. Autism Ontario, CHEO, MFRC, and other government-run programs) can often point you in the right direction even if they can’t help you directly.
Take Little Breaks for Yourself
Okay, so maybe you don’t have time to nap or get out of the house. Perhaps you have no relatives nearby to help you out, and there aren’t many services out there for you. Whenever you get a chance, have a nice, hot, relaxing bath. Make yourself a cup of tea and tell the kids that Mommy (or Daddy) is having a time-out for the next 20 minutes, and curl up in a quiet place to enjoy some peace. Listen to some relaxing music. Take 30 minutes to do a Yoga video, or go for a nice walk, even if the kids come with you. These things help to break up the crazy of your day, and help prevent you from becoming overstimulated and overwhelmed.
Plan Meals Ahead
One of the things I’ve done that has really helped me out is to plan meals ahead of time. I don’t have much time to prep a lot of food to freeze for those nights that you may be sick, flared up, or exhausted, and I hate feeding my kids anything that’s not home-made. So I prepare a weekly menu every Saturday morning, and shop for what I need. I make double and triple batches of soups, stews, chili, casseroles, and bread when I cook a meal at dinner time, then portion it out into freezer meals. This way, I’m already working with the same ingredients, using the same utensils, and making the same mess. It will take a little longer to chop extra carrots, celery, potatoes, and other ingredients, but not as long as if you spent a day making several different recipes. You save on shopping trips, dirty dishes, and cleanup by doubling and tripling your recipes. When you’re having a rough day, are sick, or exhausted, you can pull one of your pre-made meals out of the freezer and ta-da! Healthy meal without the prep and cleanup!
Consider Cutting Down on Outside Activities
If you’re finding that you and your kids are getting stressed out by all the swimming lessons, hockey, art classes, dance lessons, and other after-school activities, consider eliminating some. Last fall, 2 of my sons were in 6 lessons each per week; both boys swam on the same night right after school, then they had Cubs and Scouts one day after the other, Equine Therapy & Art therapy for one of my sons, and music lessons for both at the same time, along with medical appointments after school. We barely made it to January when I decided to drop swimming, music, and Equine therapy for the semester. Everyone was pretty burned out from the hasty meals, driving, and weekend responsibilities for these activities. I decided to bump swimming to summer for 2 weeks, and a fall OR winter session, and only do Equine therapy for one semester and then a camp in the summer. Spreading things out made life so much easier for everyone, including me. We’re much more relaxed this year as my 14-yo has just started high school, and his club activities are during the school day at lunch time. He has dropped Scouts to focus on his homework, so things are much calmer. Decide which activities your children truly love, and just drop anything that’s not really benefitting them. My oldest son is a musician, and instead of music lessons, he’ll be teaching my youngest drum lessons, so we don’t even have to leave the house.
Include Family Time in Your Week
Making time for some fun family time helps everyone relax, whether it’s going for walks, having a Friday night family game night, a movie night, or hitting the local pool for a fun swim. We even do yoga together with YouTube videos of Yoga for kids! It breaks up their week and yours, helps you to grow closer as a family, and allows you, the parent, to have some relaxing time to interact with your kids.
Pay attention to whether you’ve been taking care of yourself, and go through these tips to see what would help you the most. Be patient with yourself, and just remember – it’s Parental Maintenance. If you can’t function, you can’t parent. Make it all about you when you can, so you can make it all about them the rest of the time.
What do you do to ensure that you have time to take care of yourself? Let me know in the comments below!