by Rachel Zook
The one question I am asked all the time about raising a child with special needs is, “How do you do it?” My response after being asked 200,000 times is, “I wake up and put one foot in front of the other just like you!” Luckily, I normally only say that in my head and I answer with something more along the lines of, “I have a great support system in place.” I am not sure if after six years of the emotional, financial, and physical roller coaster that raising a uniquely made child I would still be standing without that amazing support group of family, church, friends, therapist and school staff.
Since I have such an amazing group surrounding my family, I am able to do the number one thing that helps get me through those hard hours or days. The number one thing I have realized that helps me to feel refreshed and recharged to tackle the next IEP issue, the hour wait to talk to someone at the specialist office, to call the insurance company back again to fight for supplies, or drive to the next therapy appointment, is—wait for it—taking time for myself. I know it is such a simple thing to help with the stress but so very hard to do it.
I found out the hard way just how exhausted and drained I truly had become. This past October I bravely got into a car full of my dearest friends and drove to Atlanta to attend a two-day Women of Faith conference. I have never left my child with special needs or even my other child for more than one night other than the five days I was in the hospital having my second child. I was a wreck, and even though I knew my husband was more than able to take care of them, I did not want to go. I actually had a panic attack while packing the night before and started texting one friend saying I could not go!
I was frozen in fear of what could happen, but also in guilt about leaving my family. The next morning, my husband basically pushed me out of the car and drove away with both my kiddos crying. I climbed into the car and we were off for a three-day weekend of God, girl talk and no kids.
The first night at the conference I sat missing my family, but I was also surprisingly happy to be surrounded by friends and fellow believers of Christ. About two hours into the night Amy Grant stepped out and started singing, and tears started flowing down my face. I literally collapsed into my chair. The last six years of stress just puddled on the floor beneath my feet. I was emotionally and physically exhausted and never realized how bad it was until I was taken out of the situation.
I just sat there and cried. It was the most freeing moment in forever. I just became me again. Not mom, not therapist, not nurse, not researcher. I was just me, Rachel.
I finally picked myself back up off the chair and joined the thousands of voices singing praises. However, those moments of tears showed me that I had to do more to take care of myself or I was just going to be a puddle of tears. I spent the next two days laughing, crying and finding myself again. It was amazing. My children were fine with their daddy and I was recharging batteries long since dead. I came home happy and refreshed. My husband, on the other hand, well let’s just says he had a newfound appreciation for all I do.
My take away from those precious three days was this: I had to take care of myself to care for my child who is medically challenged, severely deaf, and physically delayed, as well as her two-year-old brother. So, I try daily to take at least ten minutes to read a book just for me on the couch, or sink into a warm bubble bath with a cup of tea after the kids are asleep. Weekly I attend a community group of women from my church who have now become a large part of my support system in large and small ways. My husband and I ask a grandparent to watch the kids for a few hours every couple of weeks and we go on a date to reconnect outside of parenting with each other.
If things are really stressful for some reason, I ask for help now, and I don’t try to be supermom all the time. It seems so simple, just to take ten minutes for myself, but I spend five of those minutes thinking of the long list of things I should be doing. However, at least I still get five minutes to be just me.
Try to find your own list of things that you like to do, and try to do one a day. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or huge, just a cup of tea or a phone call to a friend. Do whatever makes you smile inside and able to tackle the next thing on your to do list.