Special Needs Parenting :: Planning to Get Away - by Carey Nelson Handley

I have a friend who is always inviting me to visit her in her town about three hours from mine. We’ve known each other for 30 years and she’s one of my dearest friends. I know it’s a great idea, not only because we would have a wonderful time, but also because, frankly, I could use the time away. And yet, I find myself never making plans to go.

Several years ago, a counselor I was seeing asked how long it had been since I went away for a girls’ weekend. I told her I never had. She thought that was unusual but, then again, she was not accustomed to working with Special Needs families.

The truth is that as much as I would love to spend a weekend away, one without responsibilities, it often takes too much effort for too little time.

What my friend doesn’t realize is that when she travels, she packs a bag, plots the route and goes. When I travel, I do that, too, but I also have to make sure my daughter has her medication for the next few days, that her work has the numbers for my husband and my mother, that they both know which job my daughter is working that day, what time she finishes so one of them can pick her up, that they have the number for her supervisor and the supervisor has theirs and on and on. I’m also self-employed so there’s a lot that also must be done for my business prior to leaving.

Truthfully, it seems more trouble than it’s worth for two days away. But, try telling that to my friend whose grown children are neurotypical.

Those of us who are parents of a child or young adult with Special Needs have learned to be caretakers throughout our child’s life which, unlike traditional families, does not necessarily end when our child is no longer a child. Our own child is now in her mid-20’s and virtually nothing has changed in her care for years. Nor, is it ever likely to change. That’s not a complaint. That’s a fact.

Many of us have learned to care for our child but we haven’t learned to care for ourselves. Often, we will bypass our own needs, perhaps because we’re so busy caring for everyone else or, perhaps, like in the example above, it’s just easier. There’s an old saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Realizing the importance of taking care of the caretaker is one of the hardest lessons to learn and to put into practice, yet it’s also one of the most necessary.

Not putting this into practice can lead to isolation, regret and resentment. If you have friends who truly understand and accept the limitations that Special Needs parenting comes with, you are fortunate. Unfortunately, many people whose lives go on without these complications have no idea of our internal struggle. The struggle to be everything to everyone while still caring for ourselves.

Author Mandy Hale said, “It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority. It’s necessary.”

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