“Make sure you take care of yourself, too.” Parents hear that all of the time. When you’re the parent of a child with special needs it’s not only more important, it’s more difficult.

Taking care of you takes time and “me time” is a hot commodity. Because of this, many of us substitute “caring” for ourselves with “pampering” or “treating” ourselves.

Any of these sound familiar?

  • 5th trip to the doctor this month = coffee and pastry from favorite café
  • Yet another blood test = treating your child and yourself to ice cream
  • Exhausted from a child who never sleeps = caffeinate to compensate
  • IEP meeting coming up = self-medicating with wine and chocolate
  • Visit to new specialist = pizza delivered for dinner because no time to cook
  • Hard week (aren’t they all) = commiserating with friends over a bottle of wine
  • Day full of doctors and therapists = a trip through the drive thru for lunch
  • Hospital stay = whatever food is available, sedentary for days, a shower is a luxury
  • Trip to ER = whatever you and your child want when you get out

We are so busy and so stressed that we feel like we earned something. We are working so hard to make sure our family is OK that we deserve that wine or that chocolate or that couch potato session when the kids go to sleep. Would we rather get a manicure or a massage or go for a run? Sure! But there’s no time. There’s no one to watch our children. Often there’s no money to spare for those luxuries. So we seek out things that make us feel good in the moment and pay for it later.

That’s a very dangerous reward system we’re developing. Because when you have a child with special needs, he or she needs often needs you for a lifetime. Even if your child lives on their own one day – circumstances can change. Not only that, but we owe it to the rest of our family to be healthy for them. Most importantly, we owe it to ourselves.

But how? How do we find balance? How do we reward ourselves and take care of ourselves at the same time? I am going to attempt to find out. I am the mother of 3 children ages 5, 3, and 1. My oldest has Down syndrome and some other health issues. I work from home. I have a dog. I have a wonderful husband who works a lot. Like everyone, my life is full and beyond busy. Like so many, I have tried and failed many times to improve my own health and fitness. It’s not for lack of effort. I start off strong and then my children get sick. I get back on the wagon, then I get sick. I start gaining momentum, then a family emergency takes me out of town. Things settle down and then I get sick again. I get better and then my son needs a whole new slew of tests to figure out why he’s always sick.

There is always something. These are not excuses; this is life. Life will always throw us curveballs. It’s a matter of figuring out priorities. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about giving yourself what you truly deserve.

As I share my journey of trying to make myself a priority in a healthy way while still caring for my family, I’ll be reaching out to others who have found balance to share their stories. And I hope you will share your struggles and successes too!

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