Compassion Fatigue - Parenting Children with Special Needs
I want to share a story about a hammock. When I would dream of vacations by the sea (I lived far from a warm beach at the time) my vision always included a hammock and maybe a beverage with a little umbrella too. As a busy mom of children on the autism spectrum, I would briefly consider buying a hammock for my backyard. I thought, perhaps I could find a couple of moments to relax and pretend that I was on vacation. I would go online and look at hammocks with a stand (because my yard lacked good trees) and then eventually I would decide this wasn’t in our budget or I didn’t really need it. The thought would pass and I would continue moving through mom life as usual.
One day, I was looking at articles on sensory integration tools for kids with autism, trying to find more ways to help my children. I found one that suggested using a hammock. The article said that gentle rocking and the way it holds the body could be very soothing and therapeutic for sensory processing disorders. That was all I needed to hear, this time I didn’t think about if it was in our budget or if we really needed a hammock. I was clicking over to Amazon ready to purchase one as soon as possible. (Perhaps you are thinking the same thing right now at this moment.) Isn’t that funny! How quickly we parents of children on the autism spectrum do not hesitate to get our children something that might improve their life but when it comes to ourselves we do not hold that same value.
There is a condition called caregivers fatigue syndrome and in my experience, almost all moms of autistic children suffer from this at one point or another. We focus so much emotional and physical energy as well as our time on improving the lives of our children. We tend to put ourselves on the back burner. That constant attention to everyone but ourselves leads to burnout aka caregivers fatigue syndrome.
Symptoms of caregivers fatigue include:
- Lack of energy
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Sleep problems (too much or too little)
- Changes in eating habits; weight loss or gain
- A feeling of hopelessness
- Withdrawing from, or losing interest in, activities you once enjoyed
- Neglecting your own physical and emotional needs
- Feeling like care-giving is controlling your life
- Becoming unusually impatient, irritable or argumentative with the person you’re caring for and/or with others
- Anxiety about the future
- Depression or mood swings
- Difficulty coping with everyday things
- Headaches, stomachaches, and other physical problems
- Lowered resistance to illness
As parents of special needs kids, it is vital that we value ourselves and take the time to fill our cups back up, fill them so much that we can serve from our saucer. Our children need us to be calm, positive, strong, and supportive. It is absolutely impossible to hold that position without also getting support for yourself.
Some things you can do include:
- Ask for help! Needing help doesn’t make you a bad caregiver. It simply means you can’t do it alone (no one can do it alone).
- Give yourself permission to take breaks. Get out of the house. Visit with friends. Take a long bath.
- Get up 15 minutes earlier or stay up 15 minutes later and use the time just for you. Sit with your coffee or tea and enjoy it.
- Journal about your struggles and feelings. Meditate, pray, stretch. . . . Do whatever you want to do.
- Make a list of your daily activities and tasks and delegate as many as you can to someone else. Perhaps your spouse can make dinner twice or a week. Maybe a friend or relative can run errands or help with laundry. People often want to help—take them up on it!
- Find local support groups. Communicating your frustrations and joys with others who are in your situation helps immensely.
- If an opportunity comes along for a brief getaway for you, consider trusting a family member or close friend to care for your child. I know transitions are difficult but a refreshed parent makes all the difference and it will be worth it.
My passion is supporting mothers! I offer supportive sessions for mothers like me who are parenting amazing children who happen to have autism. When you come to a session you can relax and unwind the tension you are holding in a space of safety and understanding.
Your healing session can be an oasis from the stressors in your life. It can be a time to release your concerns and give your central nervous system a much-needed break.If you aren’t ready for a session just yet, please explore the list above and give some of it a try. You will be so glad that you did! Your peace will ripple through your family.