Not long ago, I wrapped up an unexpected stint of 24/7 grandma duty with a 3-year-old. Our 10 days together were a grand success, though I felt like I was spinning plates. One plate for the 3-year-old. Another plate for meeting my mother’s caregiving needs. A plate each for my husband, my work obligations, housekeeping, and meals.
As a sanity-saving measure, I tucked away the plates for myself, friends, and hobbies until my grandson’s parents returned. Once he was home again, I compiled this list of ways parents of kids with special needs can make time for themselves and stay sane.
#1: Lower Standards
My need for neatness was not compatible with a 3-year-old in the house. I quickly realized that for both our sakes, my standards had to be lowered. Clean clothes, bathroom, and dishes were priorities. My grandson and I put away toys each night to reinforce what his parents had been working on with him. Everything else received a lick and a promise, and the world did not end.
#2: Lower Expectations
I’m not talking about lowering expectations for a child’s behavior. Those expectations, in line with a child’s developmental abilities, must be reinforced daily. However, parents must lower unrealistic expectations we often put on ourselves. We need to tailor expectations and say no to demands that don’t match our circumstances. For example, say no to leading a Girl Scout Troop and offer to send treats periodically instead. Say no to an hour-a-day Bible study program and choose a fifteen minute daily devotional instead. Say no to a daily work out at a gym and do an exercise video at home instead.
#3: Swap Duties
Arrange to swap a half day of child care duties with a friend. One week you take the kids. The next week your friend takes them. You may have to train your friend in how to care with your child who has special needs, but it’s worth the investment to create time for yourself.
#4: Order Groceries Online and Have Them Delivered
In my opinion, online grocery ordering and delivery is the greatest thing since sliced bread. A regional grocery store chain in our area even offers free delivery for a minimum $100 order. Even with a fee, the savings in gas and time are worth it. Because we all have better things to do than grocery shopping.
#5: Use the LibraryTake advantage of library story and activity times. Call the local library’s children’s director, explain your child’s situation, and ask which program is the best fit. While your child participates, choose books and/or audiobooks for your child and for you. Or run to the coffee shop for a latte. Or some other pampering. You and your sanity are worth it.
#6: Squirrel Away Fun
When you see things at back-to-school sales or on clearance—like sidewalk chalk, coloring books, bubbles, craft supplies, stickers, or whatever will occupy your child for a long stretch—stock up and squirrel them away. Pull stuff out on rainy days or when you need a break, and you’ll both be happy.
#7: Allow for Quality Screen Time
Too much screen time is bad. But, carefully selected screen time can be good. Read what the experts say about how much daily screen time is appropriate for your child’s age and/or development. Allow your child that amount of time to engage in quality learning games, television shows, and online activities each day. Then, use the freed up time to do something you want to get done.
#8: Limit Your Own Screen Time
Limiting screen time accomplishes two important things. First, it provides a model for children as you teach them to limit their screen time. Second, you will have more time for what matters—like your spouse, your kids, friends, hobbies, and yourself—because you won’t be wasting time on things that don’t.
#9: Be Flexible
Plans change in the blink of an eye. Doctor’s appointments get rescheduled. Kids get sick. Kids with special needs get really sick. Weather hassles make travel impossible. Caregivers don’t show up. Family members die. Babies arrive early. A crisis arises, and you want to help. The best way to handle changed plans is to be as flexible as possible under the circumstances—and doing so is way easier once items #1 through #8 on this list are implemented.
I may not have a child with special needs at home any more. But I do have four young grandchildren, and I want to be ready to pitch in at a moment’s notice. I’ve set a goal to put one thing from the list in place per week, so my plates are prepared the next time 24/7 grandma duty rolls around. Want to join me?