I like to feel rested. My most satisfying days end with projects checked off my list and at least 7 hours of sleep. (And, hopefully, those are consecutive, uninterrupted hours.) But most days come and go with a lot of caregiving, emails with our daughter’s case manager, disability-related paperwork, medications organized, and the desperate need for a long winter’s nap! I know you relate.
The truth is, most people don’t get enough rest or true refreshment in their lives. Special-needs parents get even less. Lots less. I’m a special-needs mom to a young adult woman with significant needs and dependencies, so I’m going to share from a mom’s perspective. Dads are right here too.
Stick with me for a minute while I play out a metaphor.
Imagine you’re a hiker with a bottle of water and 2 hours of walking, climbing and extraordinary views ahead of you. It’s hot but bearable. No specific obstacles are anticipated. Then you suddenly turn your ankle on a loose stone and go down. At first, you think it’s simple a sprain. You expect to rest a moment and then walk it off. But your ankle swells quickly and begins to throb mightily. After a painful weight-bearing test, you get nervous about whether you can make the walk back to your car safely on your own. Sensing you have only four more hours of daylight, you gather your wits and will yourself to walk. Unfortunately, frequent breaks to regroup keep your progress painstakingly slow and your water supply is running low. You wonder why you didn’t save more, in case your adventure grew prolonged. You’re weary with regrets. Fear sets in as sunset comes and goes without another hiker in sight. The parking lot is still far off. Your worries of rattle snakes, hairy spiders and eerie bats is growing and you’re feeling hauntingly alone. You drop back to the ground and realize you’ve gotten lost in the dark. To make matters worse, your water straw is now sucking air. That reservoir of refreshment seemed so much bigger a few hours ago than it does now!
Are you with me? That “hike” I described sounds like our journey through special needs parenting, doesn’t it? We’re walking life’s road with great awareness that there is beauty and excitement in the adventure but it comes with frequent setbacks that include danger, fear, confusion, overwhelm, and a host of other surprises. If you’re like me, you need ways to recharge your physical batteries, replenish your emotional reserves, and “rehydrate” your soul.
Finding time to rest and engage in effective, personalized refreshment strategies is not easy.
I find it’s helpful to start by asking myself a hard question. It’s the root question, really.
Do I trust God enough to prioritize my rest? Or do I think I need to press on hard because “if I don’t do it, who will” or “what awful or inferior thing might happen if I don’t get this or that done for my special needs child?” Friends, this kind of thinking reflects our pride and our lack of trust in God to be our ultimate Supply. After all, this is the same God who commanded the Israelites to rest on the seventh day and just trust Him. God provided exactly what they needed for food each day, but only enough for one day at a time. Anything extra spoiled overnight so they needed to trust Him for each new day. And on the seventh day, there was an exception to His pattern. He preserved a second day’s supply of food (which they prepared the day before) and gave them the opportunity for rest. God’s people honored Him best on that day by trusting Him for every necessary provision (even their very freedom) and reflecting on His faithfulness.
The caregiver in me is nourished by several things as I try to make rest a regular part of my diet. It has also helped me to recognize that I may not be able to indulge in long, slow swallows of refreshment very often but I won’t stay healthy or safe without adequate pauses for steady “sips of hydration.” It’s taken time to learn what works for me — what needs to be on my list and how I need to pace my rations. If you don’t yet know what works for you, let me encourage you to prayerfully ponder it and do some experimenting.
When I observe special needs moms who make self-care a priority, I’m always empowered with ideas and renewed commitment. Perhaps this list might confirm your own approaches or inspire some new ways for you to stay equipped for the trail ahead.
Take 30-minute power naps. Now don’t roll your eyes. Impossible as it seems, this may be the single most helpful thing you can do for yourself and your family. That’s right, for your family. Taking a nap is not a self-indulgent thing. It is another way to serve your family. A 20-30-minute investment will give you a huge bang for your buck! Ideally, allow yourself 10 minutes to wind down then 20 minutes to sleep.
Tackle high-stress tasks promptly and when your energy is most fresh.
Recognize that the “perfect” IEP is not the ultimate end-goal for your child.
Release yourself from the weight of responsibility to find every “best specialist” or “best therapist” or “best teacher” or “best special education program” or “best everything” in town.Briefly ask questions or research online but cover it with prayer and then trust God to point you in helpful and productive directions. When the situation doesn’t seem ideal, remember that God is perfect strength in our weakness and will work out every single situation for His good purposes.
Know what triggers your personal stress then ask God to help you discern when to take action and when to let go of what is out of your control.
Choose healthy ways to pamper yourself. It may require getting a couple hours of help from a spouse, older child, parent, neighbor, friend, or church volunteer to make this happen. This may seem improbable but it is a worthy effort to seek such support with the same vigor you put into advocating for your child. Get a pedicure, soak in the bathtub or have coffee/tea with a friend. Watch a fun movie while snuggled up with your child or spouse. Gather up the family and take a short field trip somewhere fun and different than the usual routine like bowling, a wildlife museum, aquarium, or theme park. Plan a staycation day with your family or spouse. (There are times when it is appropriate and necessary to do this with your typical children but arrange care for your child with special needs to stay home.) Eat enough protein and veggies. It helps me to focus on putting more good things in my life rather than thinking about denying myself the more indulgent treats.
Don’t let guilt and unforgiveness fester. Confess your sins quickly. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Ask your loved ones for forgiveness and grace. Give them the same. Seek the empowering Holy Spirit for help to live well and trust God to be the strength in your weakness.
Develop a practice of gratitude and reject a critical spirit.
Get counsel for chronic grief. It’s real. Find constructive ways to talk about it. Seek out friends and professionals who will empathize and guide you biblically.
Tackle household clutter as proactively as possible. However, be on guard about giving a tidy house too much power.
Saturate your mind with the truths and promises of God’s word. Thankfully, there are many wonderful devotionals specifically for special needs parents these days. Check out Key Ministry’s Family Resource page for ideas. One of my mainstay tools is simply a good Bible reading app with a scheduled devotional. (YouVersion is my app of choice.) And I like that I can reset the calendar when I get behind on daily readings. No guilt here!
Prayerfully establish and protect boundaries, especially as it relates to interruptions and difficult relationships.
Do one unique thing each day to serve or encourage another person. This can be as simple as a Facebook comment or as involved as modeling generosity with your children by preparing a meal or cookies together for a struggling neighbor. Generosity and kindness are terrific energizers.
Do a daily review, thanking God for all meaningful connections, activities, results and happy surprises.
Finally, whatever is on our uniquely personal lists, there are two non-negotiable and reliably effective “best practices.” These are irreplaceable for any person seeking true and lasting refreshment, special needs mom being no exception.
Repent of sin and trust God.
Acts 3:19-20 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus.
Drink deeply from the well of intimate relationship with Jesus.
John 4:14 “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Lisa Jamieson is the author of books and Bible studies including the Finding Glory series of resources and the new children’s book Jesus, Let’s Talk. She is co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries and leads the Minnesota Disability Ministry Connection. Lisa and her husband, Larry, have been married 30 years and have three grown daughters. Their daughter, Carly, has Angelman Syndrome and lives at home with them in Maple Grove, Minnesota.