Parenting is the world’s hardest job! It comes with immense responsibility in which you are on call 24/7, incessantly worrying, and using all your time and energy working at a “real job” without getting a real paycheck.
Parenting a child with autism is 100 times more stressful and exhausting because you are not only dealing with your day-to- day role as a parent, but you are organizing therapy schedules, attending and preparing for Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, researching the latest strategies and interventions, fighting with insurance companies for funding, maybe monitoring a special diet and/or vitamins, and the list goes on and on.
Not to mention you are dealing with your child’s meltdowns, rigidities, transitions, etc. When do you have time for YOU? When do you have time to decompress, sleep, breathe, eat, or spend time with friends or your significant other?
If your primary focus is being a parent and you let go of your needs, it is inevitable that you will burnout.
Parent burnout is real, and it is a result of you not taking care of YOU! Parental burnout can eventually lead to feelings of resentment towards your child and spouse, detachment from your child, and overall exhaustion.
Children with autism are very sensitive and when you are feeling anxious, resentful, or detached, our kids pick up on those underlying feelings and react. Think of it like this, when you are not in a good place your child will not be in a good place. Your child models your behavior and mood, they are learning from you.
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Avoiding Parental Burnout
So, how does a parent avoid burnout? There is not magic pill or formula that will prevent a parent from becoming burned out. However, there are strategies that you can apply to your daily life that can help.
I have listed five tips below to help be proactive before you begin to feel burned out. So when you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed the tips listed below focus on you and your needs a parent, but most importantly you as a human. Remember it all begins with YOU and taking care of yourself.
1. Make A List
Create a list of 10 things you like to do and/or eat that calm you. This list can consist of things like eating a piece of chocolate, walking, listening to music, etc. We talk about self-regulation with our kids, but think of things that help you self-regulate.
Whenever you are feeling out of sorts take three deep breaths and do something on your list that will help ground you. Remember that when you are dysregulated your child will be too.
2. Make YOU A Priority
Just like you create a schedule for your child, create a schedule for yourself and schedule time in for you. In fact, add your “you” time to your child’s schedule so both of you know you have made time for yourself.
So many parents come to me and say, “I don’t have time for myself.” So, what you are saying is, “I am not worth it.” Anyone can carve out 10-15 minutes of their day to take walk, read a book, etc. You are worth it!
3. Parent Prompts
Find positive quotes or positive statements that help remind you that you are an amazing parent. Write these statements down on pieces of paper and tape them throughout your house.
They can be simple statements like, “Breathe,” “You can do this,” “Calm Down,” “You are the best.” Just like our kids need visual prompts to help them, so do you as a parent. Think of this as your visual prompt to help you become the best parent you can be.
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4. Date You
Once a month, plan a date with yourself because you deserve it. This can be anytime of the day by taking yourself out to coffee or dinner, going to a movie, getting a massage, etc.
The key is to make sure you are by yourself and you do something that will give you a break from parenting as well as help energize you. Once you get used to dating you, I encourage parents to do it once a week.
5. It Can Wait
You are human, so do not be so hard on yourself when you cannot get everything done. If it comes down to doing something for your child or taking time for you, YOU are just important and it can wait.
Half the time your child isn’t aware that you didn’t get something done. Our “To Do Lists” just put added pressure and stress into our lives. If the situation doesn’t need immediate attention…it Can Wait!
Parenting is tough job, but it is also one of the most rewarding. Burnout will happen, however if you incorporate the above strategies into your daily life, I can assure you the burnout won’t happen as frequently, and it won’t be as intense.
As a parent you have the most important role in life and if you don’t take time for yourself you are not only hurting yourself, but your children as well. You and your children deserve the best and it all begins with taking time out for YOU!
This article was featured in Issue 102 – Supporting ASD Needs Everyday