Self-care is one of those buzz word that is everywhere at the minute. Lots of people are writing about it and talking about it’s importance. I always thought it was about mani pedis, massages, relaxation, things that can cost money and are hard to get the time for regularly. And yet I keep seeing these articles about how important self care is and so I’ve been thinking about it. A lot. Self care literally means taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself on the most basic level, like showering every day, sleeping, going to the dentist and the doctor, getting your flu shot, taking your medication. All things that are difficult when you have small children but that are incredibly difficult when you are a carer to children of any age with special needs.
There’s a reason why cabin crew tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others – if you don’t look after yourself first then you won’t be able to take care of anyone else. At the tail end of 2016, after a week when I went several days without having time for a shower, I realised I needed to start taking care of myself – at the most basic level. I needed to start having a shower every night after I put Lyla to bed, I needed to make that doctors appointment to get that mole checked that I’ve been worrying about for a few months now, I needed to start saying no to things. If I didn’t start looking after myself I was going to get to the point where I was unable to look after my children either, and lets face it the showering thing meant I was going to lose friends too!
Looking back at that last paragraph there are a lot of ‘I’s in there. Isn’t that the point? That it’s my responsibility to look after myself because no one else is going to do it for me. I always thought that I needed to work to be myself. Stopping work after Lyla was born was a necessity not a choice. When we moved back to Scotland more than a few people asked whether I would be able to start working again. Once Lyla started nursery I thought I could take on a few hours a week of work, sure I had two and a half hours a day ‘free’, that was plenty of time. I forgot about the impact that solo parenting Sunday to Friday has on our home and family life. I forgot about the whole need to shower, wash clothes, do paperwork, keep food on the table, take Lyla to appointments and generally take care of myself thing. Two months in I knew it wasn’t working. I loved the work and the adult conversation but I had to say No. Self care meant not willingly putting so much on my plate that it overbalances and everything falls off.
I’m pretty good at doing the big things to take care of myself like going away either by myself or with a friend for a couple of nights a few times a year. This has been non negotiable for me since Lyla was diagnosed. Sometimes I just need to get away and not have someone need me for a day or two. It means I come back refreshed and happy and ready to give more of myself. It’s the day to day stuff that I suck at. Like realising it’s ok for me to go for a walk by myself, it’s ok for me to eat lunch alone, on a plate, in full, at 11am before I pick Lyla up from nursery, it’s ok to sit and drink a coffee before I attack the ironing or vacuum and you know what if those things don’t get done today because I decided to have a shower, go to the doctor or go for a walk then that’s ok too. Happy mum, happy kids.
I knew it couldn’t be just me who struggled with this so I asked other parents who have kids with special or additional needs what part of self care they struggled with.
Miriam from FaithMummy, struggles to remember to take her medication daily because of the stress of looking after two disabled children. She’s one step ahead of me and has a routine for showering and brushing teeth otherwise those things, she says, would never happen.
Rachel from Ordinary Hopes is no longer registered with a doctor and has been unable to get to a new doctors to fill out the necessary forms as her child is home educated and the doctors surgery is not easily wheelchair accessible
Nikki from My Autism and Duanes syndrome awareness mission, struggles with everyday things like brushing her hair, eating meals and seeing her doctor when she is in pain.
Do you think any of these mothers would forget their kid’s medication? Or put off taking them to the doctor? Of course they wouldn’t. In 2017 I am asking Miriam, Rachel and Nikki and all mothers, like us, who struggle with these every day tasks to put on their own oxygen mask first so you have enough inner strength to look after your children. Start taking care of yourself on the most basic level, start practicing self care.
For my part I have been making more of an effort to eat before I am hangry, I have been showering at night after the kids have gone to bed, this might be 10pm but at least I am showered and I got that mole checked out, (all good by the way). It’s a process but at least I have started.