You just got off the phone with your cousin. She’s excited about her holiday dinner and wants you and your family to come. It’s a tempting offer. She’s cooking holiday favorites, inviting people you haven’t seen in ages and buying small gifts for all the kids.
But you’re thinking of declining; somehow, you just can’t get into the holiday spirit.
Could it be the barrage of commercials, movies and TV shows portraying so-called “normal” families celebrating the holidays with smiles, laughter and good cheer? You know that isn’t the reality for most special needs families who may struggle with feelings of guilt, loneliness and stress.
These extra stresses can take all the joy out of the season. While the rest of the world eagerly awaits the holidays, you may find yourself hoping to just “survive” or “manage” them.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way. With planning, realistic expectations and an optimistic outlook, you can reduce holiday pressures and actually enjoy this time with your family. Here are five tips that may help you:
- Realize You’re Not Alone
Holiday season can be a difficult time for any family. Many people suffer from the so-called holiday blues, brought on by the extra monetary and time stress, physical fatigue and family demands during this time of year.
But for many special needs parents, these negative thoughts and emotions are even more difficult to handle, coming on top of the usual responsibilities of care and making you feel overwhelmed and guilty.
You’re not the only one feeling lonely, depressed or even resentful of others. It’s even common to wish that your child didn’t have a disability and could participate in regular holiday events and activities.
Keep in mind, these types of feelings are perfectly normal. Having them on occasion doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad parent – it just means you’re human.
Loving your children and doing your best for them makes you a good parent, whether your child has special needs or not. Continuing to do your best in difficult circumstances makes you both a good parent and a good person.
- Spend Time Where You’re Comfortable
The holidays usually offer a wide range of potential activities – everything from small family gatherings to huge office parties and even bigger public celebrations. So it’s important to decide what events to attend based on your family’s needs, regardless of what your relatives, friends, neighbors or anyone else thinks.
If you and your child don’t feel comfortable going to a particular event, why should you go? The same principle applies to entertaining at home. If certain people make you uncomfortable by staring, making remarks or over-reacting to your child’s behavior, why even have them in your house?
Invite those who understand your child’s condition and support your family. Always remember, your friends and family don’t like or love you less because you have a child with special needs. In fact, they probably admire and respect you more than ever after seeing how difficult it can be to raise a child with a disability.
And the people who really love you are not offering pity, they are giving empathy – they are putting themselves in your shoes, as far as they can, and trying to figure out how they can help.
So it’s okay to ask for and accept assistance. Not only will it take some tasks off your “To Do” list, letting others assist you will also make them feel good.
Don’t shut these people out of your life, and don’t shut yourself in. Reach out and you will find many hands waiting to take yours, particularly around the holidays.
- Enjoy The Gift of Personal Time
When your family and close friends ask what you want for a holiday gift, do yourself a big favor by asking for the two things that are always in short supply – – a few hours of “me time” or “couple time.”
Think about the last time you had a mani/pedi, spent time watching the game with the guys, or went on a real date with your spouse? Probably seems like an eternity ago.
The holiday season can provide you with that chance to refresh and recharge yourself or reconnect with your partner. Many people have time off from work and are full of the giving spirit, making this the ideal time to ask friends and family to give you that personal break for a few hours.
Take full advantage of these opportunities. Do something that makes you happy, or that you simply never get the chance to do in your busy life.
It’s best to ask your friends and family to come and take care of your child in your home. Familiar surroundings will make it easier for your son or daughter and wonderful caregiver.
You will know that your child is safe and well-cared for, and that you don’t have to pay for child care. Does life get any better than this?
Giving you time off, with peace of mind, is the best present your friends and family can give you — and it won’t cost them a dime!
- Lose The Parental Guilt
Is it okay for you to be laughing with friends at a party, enjoying good food and conversation, with a special needs child waiting for you back at home? Yes! Some people seem to think that having a child with a disability means you must always be overwhelmed and unhappy. It’s bad enough when other people try to impose that thinking on you, but it’s even worse when you do it to yourself.
You shouldn’t feel guilty for a having some fun over the holidays, even if it’s only for a short time. A bit of enjoyment is actually good for you, and believe it or not, beneficial for your child. Whether or not there is a disability in a family, parents who take care of themselves — physically and emotionally — are better able to take care of their children.
And if guilt raises its ugly head, just remember who the dedicated parent is that manages all of your child’s needs on a daily basis. You’re the one handling doctors and therapists’ appointments, and working with the teaching staff to help ensure your child is getting an appropriate education. Because of you, your child’s needs are being met with care and love. So, you’re entitled to have a good time every once in a while.
Make sure you’ve got child care arrangements that you have confidence in, then go to that dinner with friends, that office function or that holiday party. It will do wonders for your emotional outlook to unload the weight of your responsibilities for a few hours. By giving yourself permission for joy, you’ll bring home new and positive energy for your whole family.
- Make 2016 Your Best Year Yet
A new year means fresh opportunities for a better life. Make your New Year’s resolution to take care of yourself – – to make your own needs and happiness a priority, along with everyone else’s. You deserve it. And, most importantly, it’s the best gift you can give yourself, child and family.
So tomorrow morning, call your cousin and tell her to count you in. It’s going to be a great holiday after all!
Deanna Picon is the founder of Your Autism Coach, LLC, which provides personalized guidance, support and seminars for parents of special needs children. She is a parent of a non-verbal, young man with autism. Deanna is the author of “The Autism Parents’ Guide to Reclaiming Your Life,” which is available at www.amazon.com. She can be reached at www.YourAutismCoach.com or @yourautismcoach.
This article was featured in Issue 41 – Celebrating Family