We’ve all heard more times than we can count about the importance of self-care. As mom to a preschooler with special needs, there is often so much on my plate, and it feels like my duty as the mom to ditch my self-care first.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Despite my inner dialogue that being a parent of a child with special needs means I don’t have time for self-care, I know that being the parent of a child with special needs means I need more self-care. Writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde said, “Self-care is not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation.”
Even in the most overwhelming of times, I have learned to prioritize these three essential practices to keep caring for myself.
In this current era in which life seems to move at the speed of social media, we are all pulled in countless different directions. Add to that the multitude of parenting demands, and those pulls increase. Add to that the therapies, doctor appointments, advocacy, and everyday tasks that come with parenting a child with special needs, and, well, you get the idea.
Boundaries can get a bad rap because they often come with push back from those who aren’t used to your boundaries. This quote from an unknown source really hit home for me, though: “You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” It’s OK to say no, even (perhaps especially!) if you’ve never said it before.
Make time for movement.
You might be rolling your eyes at this one, but I would also venture to say that you know it’s true. When we move our bodies, we just feel better.
I’m not saying you need to wake up early every day for a massive sweat session. I’m not even saying you must go for a walk every day. Think about the types of movement that feel the best for you and start there. It can be as simple as taking 30 seconds to stretch your neck while you sit at a stop light.
Incorporating movement into your day doesn’t need to have any rules around it; it just needs to make you feel good.
Notice what lifts you up.
I believe we can each find our self-care sweet spots by taking some time to pay attention to what lifts us up.
During the most restrictive time of my pandemic lockdown, I ordered some expensive-for-me nail polish that I kept seeing on Instagram. Feeling self-indulgent and a little vain, I gave it a try in the name of quarantine boredom. Fast forward to 2022, and I have received manicure and pedicure kits on my birthday and Christmas and have done my nails more in the past year than I think I have in my entire life.
The feeling of lightness I get from the simple act of pampering myself by taking the time to slow down, paint my nails, and let them dry so I don’t ruin them is a sacred self-care practice for me. For the days that follow, just looking at my fingers gives me a reminder of doing the little things to make myself feel good.
Maybe for you it’s taking a moment to mindfully indulge in a piece of chocolate or using the fancy soap in the shower that you only used to save for special occasions. When we spend our free time doing things that lift our souls up instead of things that just let our brains shut off (I’m looking at you, social media and games involving candy that I spent too much time playing on my phone), the self-care can really soak in.
I get it; the concept of taking the time for self-care can feel like just another thing to add to your already full and overwhelming day. Really, though, self-care is not about adding something in; it’s about shifting what you would be doing (not saying no to things you don’t want to do, spending your free time scrolling social media or playing mindless games) and replacing it with something that makes you feel more like yourself.
And, truly, if self-care is self-preservation, making self-care a priority and therefore preserving ourselves is the best gift we, as parents, can give our endlessly amazing and special kids.