Anyone who has flown before has heard instructions of a similar sort.
Just as you would secure your own oxygen mask to avoid passing out before you could save your children, you have to stop and take a deep breath in every day life. Lately, it seems self-care has become a buzzword. We all realize its necessity and purpose. But we also need the mindfulness to know what it looks like for our unique situation. To know what it looks like for you, you've got to slow down long enough to know yourself.
My self-care ten years ago looked vastly different than it does today. My self-care has changed drastically since having a second child four years ago. What worked and made me happy then, doesn't fit the bill today. What was once enjoyable (window shopping or maybe a spontaneous trip to a theme park), literally makes me cringe to think about today. I am a greatly variable entity, and chances are...so are you. So, stop right now and ask yourself. Who am I? You might be surprised at what you find.
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Once you know who you are and what is most important to you, explore your self-care options. HINT: If you don't enjoy it, it probably doesn't count as self-care. Other than that, there are few rules in this area. Your budget, whether and how often you are able to find trusted care for your children, your time constraints, your work schedule... all those things are factors, but ultimately, you choose. Still balking at the whole self-care phenomena? Here are a few tips to send you in the right direction.
1. Self-care does not have to cost money. We run a family budget so tight, it squeaks. Frankly, spending cash on myself when I know it's straining our budget elsewhere does NOT relax me. Other than an occasional Mcdonald's latte or trip to the local discount store for a dollar bottle of nail polish or lipgloss, I tend to steer clear from self-care that costs. Some argue that errands are not self-care. But for an autism mom who has been through a grocery meltdown, I can say with confidence, a grocery trip made alone with a coffee in hand can feel like total liberation. Whether you choose to leave the house or stay in, being good to yourself doesn't have to strain your budget.
2. Self-care can happen at home. I'm not good at leaving my kids. The only people who have ever babysat for us are immediate family members, and this only happens two or three times a year. As much I'd love to go out with my husband or even alone, sometimes it is just not worth the stress, planning, and fallout from an interruption in routine and familiar. More often than not, daily self-care for me is getting to do my nails without interruption or sitting down to eat my dinner before calling the kids to eat. That may sound grossly simple, but you'd be surprised how relaxing it can be to sit and eat an entire meal without having to assist someone, cut up food, clean up spills, and run for extra napkins half a dozen times before sitting down to your own (now cold) plate.
3. Self-care is not selfish. Becoming a parent does not exclude you from anxiety, depression, stress, or frustration. You will get angry with your children, your spouse, yourself. You will feel overwhelmed and under-assisted. More than once. You will feel that no one in the entire world understands just how exacting and tireless the demands of your life can be. This is normal. In fact, I would raise an eyebrow at anyone who claims to have never felt this way. Self-care is necessary for your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. It's not selfish to take a soaking hot bath when you've been carrying a colicky infant for 6+ hours a day to lessen their screaming. It's not selfish to send your wild and sugar-hyped kids outside to play so you can read a chapter of your book in the quiet.
4. Special needs parents self-care may not look like self-care at all. Getting groceries alone? Sitting down to eat dinner? Painting your nails? Getting a three dollar coffee? Yes, I realize these probably don't count as self-care to some people. I know a few parents with typical children who have their kids go to the grandparents for the weekend, go out for drinks after bedtime, or get massages with their girlfriends. It's great! This is self-care! More power to them! For me (and many of the special needs parents I know) these things aren't always, if ever, possible. My child's anxiety won't allow them a sleepover with Grandma. For some, maybe respite care can't come past 9pm. Maybe they've had to pay co-pays and buy therapy equipment and there's just no money left for a deep-tissue massage (no matter how badly they could use it). Self-care is unique to the individual. Just remember to respect what it might look like for others.