Getting guilt-free time off
Few parents can afford the kind of support or home care that would truly provide the respite you need to recharge your batteries. Therefore, you need to be creative in trying to build in snippets of time off.
Parenting a preemie, a child with a birth defect, developmental delay or disability is all-consuming. The physical and emotional toll it takes on a parent can be so heavy that you may wonder how you will go on if you don’t get a break.
Here is what used to work for me:
I decided that every Wednesday was my day off. On that day, I would not make a bed, empty the dishwasher, do laundry (unless absolutely necessary), book doctor or therapy appointments, or otherwise do anything that I usually did on the other six days of the week. Returning non-emergency, non-important emails or phone calls could wait until the next day. After all, I was “off duty” – the usual daily chores could wait. I did not feel guilty that beds were unkempt, because after all, I was off duty. I did not care that if someone rang my doorbell, the house was not tidy because (you guessed it) I was off duty. Dinner was simple – leftovers or take out, on paper plates please! It was my day off so I didn’t have to cook or do dishes. All I had to do that day was take care of my children and myself, which was enough. Wednesday was the day I gave myself a free pass.
It may sound silly or overly simple, but it worked for me. I looked forward to that day in the middle of the week when I didn’t have to do all the things that I usually did on the other days of the week. It was a little way for me to give myself a reprieve without feeling guilty. After all, with most jobs, you get time off to recharge your batteries and become refreshed. Parents raising kids with special healthcare needs must have “time off,” too, even if they can’t physically get away.
Here is another approach I used when my kids got a bit older. I would tell them that at 9 pm I “turn into a pumpkin” (a la Cinderella). That meant they had to have homework done, backpacks packed, and questions asked because I was about to go into my room to unwind (usually by watching a TV show). I can still hear them telling each other “We better show mom this (whatever it was) fast because it is almost pumpkin time!” It was a way for me to know that my day had an end (sort of), and a way for them to respect that Mom needed time to relax. It was amazing how quickly everyone got used to the routine. I even got a night shirt with the words “OFF DUTY” on the front! (A little extra emphasis can be a good thing…haha!) The bottom line is that this method worked well for my family, and especially for me.
Let’s face it, your kids need you, and they need you to be fully functional. If you can’t get someone to help give you a break, maybe my little day-off scenario and “pumpkin” deadline will work for you.
If you have a method of how you get re-charged, please share.
Note: The mini-series on Delays and Disabilities has lots of info to help you if you have a child with special needs. Please feel free to comment and make suggestions. If you have questions, send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.