The need of respite for special needs parents is probably the most overlooked necessity we have. Yes, there are many blessings that come from having a special needs child. But to be honest, it is a lot of work. Hard, never-ending work that can suck you dry physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m not going to lie or sugar coat it. In my opinion, this is the most difficult type of parenting a person can be faced with.
Why Respite is Important
As special needs parents, we are faced with many things: therapies, appointments, heavy lifting, IEP meetings, bathing, dressing, toileting, exercises just to name a few. Then there are the emotional stress factors like: is she making friends at school, is she being included, will she be able to participate in Sunday School. Day in and day out these are our realities. From the moment we get up in the morning until bedtime this is our life. The real kicker is that unlike all other children, our special needs kids don’t grow out of their dependence on. This is our never-ending reality. And this my friends is why respite is so important.
Please don’t get me wrong. I love Ladybug and wouldn’t trade her for anything. My feelings, however, do not change the fact that this is hard and we need respite. Rest is good for the body and soul. Without taking moments for respite you will burn out. I’m not saying you might burn out someday in the future. I’m saying it WILL happen. Trust me, I’ve been there. In fact, I would say I’m on the verge of being there now.
Danger of Burnout
Burnout happens when you’ve reached your limit. The stress is high and you’ve been operating this way for an extended period of time. Eventually, you will meet the end of your rope. You’ll have nothing more to give. You’ve finally met your breaking point. When you’re falling apart emotionally from sheer exhaustion you are officially burned out.
When you reach the point of burnout it is easy to focus on yourself and what you’re feeling. Those feelings are completely justified. However, let’s take a moment to look outside of ourselves during times of burnout to see how it affects others.
Our family notices and feels the extra stress and frustrations coming from you. It’s easy to become short-tempered toward our children and spouse. I get where you’re coming from, I really do. We need to be careful not to allow our burnout to negatively affect them. You’ll also probably see a decline in motivation to do regular day to day tasks.
Value of Self-Care
I know it is very difficult, especially for special needs parents but we must manage to practice self-care. If we don’t take care of ourselves we will be much more likely to experience burn out, probably even frequently. Regular self-care can be pretty simple. Maybe it’s a half an hour of quiet time. Other’s might enjoy reading a book (not related to your child’s diagnosis). I enjoy soaking in a hot bath or watching tv. Whatever you find to be relaxing to you make sure you get that self-care in each week. You can’t take care of everyone else if you are burned out, so take some time for yourself.
Value of Respite
I also believe it’s very important to find some time for respite when you can. Respite is different from self-care or getting a break in that you completely get away. Respite is not sending the kids to grandma’s so you can run errands or clean the house. No, respite is taking a break from any and all responsibilities. As special needs parents, we need to take these moments to recharge. We need rest physically and mentally from the demands on our life. We need to take these breaks to be rejuvenated.
So why do I say we need to get away for respite? For me, if I send the kids somewhere for a day and just stay home all I see is everything that needs to be done. Even if I lounge around binge-watching Netflix all day I see what isn’t done. I’ll be bothered by what I should be doing (even though I should be resting) and then I’ll start feeling guilty for not being productive. This is why I say true respite means getting away.
It doesn’t need to be a big elaborate vacation, you could get a hotel room across town. The point is, you should cut yourself off from any of your day to day responsibilities to truly rest. You should do activities that you are doing just for you. To someone, respite means sleeping all day and ordering room service. Someone else might be rejuvenated by adventure and go hiking. The central point to respite is to get away and do something you enjoy. Do something for you.
Don’t feel guilty
As special needs parents, we give of ourselves each and every day. Almost everything we do goes unnoticed. Not only do you need respite, you’ve earned it. Do not under any circumstances let others make you feel guilty for asking for respite. Don’t feel guilty for sending your kids to spend the weekend with grandma and grandpa. This life cannot be understood unless you are living it.
My husband and I took a vacation together last year to celebrate our 10th anniversary. It was just the two of us. I cannot tell you how important it was to both of us. We got the respite we desperately needed. We also had an amazing time being able to focus on each other and our relationship.
Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from getting some respite is that we are ready to jump back into life refreshed. Rest and stress relief will have amazing ramifications. Your motivation will increase and you will avoid burnout.
What activities do you enjoy to recharge yourself? I would love to hear them, comment below!