Self-care is a phrase that gets tossed around often, but for special-needs parents, self-care is not optional. If we don’t care for ourselves, we can’t properly care for the children God has given us.
Last October I focused on self-care for the entire month of October and shared what I learned on my blog. Five tips seemed to resonate most with the readers of my site and I'm sharing them here as well:
Know your life purpose. Like everyone else God created, my purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I live out that purpose within the boundaries and limitations God set in my life. Every dream and goal I had changed the day we got James’s autism diagnosis. No matter what I thought my calling was when I was 5, or 15, or 25—the calling that overshadows almost every other goal I had is being James’s mom. But this wasn’t a mistake. This didn’t surprise God. When He created me with a set of gifts and calling, He did so knowing I would be James’s mom. That means I can still achieve every purpose He has for me within the constraints of my daily life.
Get enough sleep. Here's what works for me: I go to bed and wake at at the same time every day. In bed at 9:00, asleep by 10:00. Awake at 6:30, out of bed by 7:00. I don’t drink caffeine after noon. You may be able to stop at 2:00 pm or 5:00 pm, but noon works best for me. I turn the computer off at 9:00 pm. In fact, I try to avoid anything backlit an hour before bed time. I read from 9:00 until I’m ready to go to sleep. Most people say they can’t read fiction before bed, but I prefer it. It usually doesn’t require me to think too much. If I’m not asleep thirty minutes after I’ve gone to bed, I take Melatonin. (I need it maybe twice a month.)
Eliminate decision fatigue. The average person makes 35,000 decisions a day. If we eliminate as many of these decisions as possible, we have more energy and wisdom to make the ones that really matter. Studies claim we repeat about 40% of our behavior almost daily. Fatigue can set in when we make too many decisions. To eliminate fatigue, make the best decision and then repeat it each day.
Turn down the noise (social media and email tips). I give myself a little time to get the most important things done first thing in the morning and then get off. I don’t check email unless I have time to respond to the emails. I am really bad about not answering email. The main reason is I read them on my phone but don’t like to reply on my phone. But when I check them on my computer, I forget they are there. To help, I stop checking email on my phone. I use unroll.me for all my email subscriptions. I get 30+ emails a day with sale offers, notices about sales, or other notifications. With unroll.me, they all come in one email once a day and I just click on any I need to read. I turn off all notifications, both those on my phone and ones that go through email. I don’t want my day interrupted by something happening on Facebook. And I don’t want to see a new notification on Facebook and see it again in my inbox. So they are all turned off. I leave my phone at home if I’m with my husband and kids somewhere. This is a new habit for me. I decided if anyone really needed me, they would call Lee’s phone if I didn’t answer mine. So I just leave it at home. Especially when we’re with our church family.
Minimalistic living. Last summer we moved from Pennsylvania to Texas. We didn’t know what size house we’d be moving into until a couple weeks before we moved. In fact, we were close to having to move in with my parents until we found a house to rent. So I took Marie Kondo’s advice and cleaned out the entire house. She says, "The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: 'Does this spark joy?' If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge." It sounds overwhelming, but I had gotten to a point of feeling overwhelmed by our stuff (especially toys the boys didn’t play with anymore). So taking the time to do it all was worth the work.
There are other important self-care practices, like eating healthy and exercising, but these five made the biggest impact in my life.
Sandra Peoples (M. Div) is a special-needs mom and sibling. She and her family live outside of Houston where she serves her church as co-director of the special-needs ministry. She’s the author of Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family.