The past few months we have written about the guilt, the heartbreak, the anxiety of thinking and planning the future of a complex child, and the social isolation that comes with parenting a child with special needs. The underlying theme in all of these articles has been the high levels of stress and anxiety that are a part of raising a special needs child.
Special Needs moms have items on their daily agenda that are entirely different than the typical mother. All mothers are required to feed, cloth, and care for their minor children. However, typical children will obtain skills that will enable more independence for the child and the mother. As children grow, they often need less support from their parents to manage daily activities. For many mothers in the special needs community, their children never obtain those skills or learn them at a much later date. Some of the children may never learn any skills at all. Many of these moms are facing the reality that their children may never live on their own and will need care for their entire lives.
Mothers often find themselves tired, overwhelmed, and isolated from the world around them. These feelings are reasonable, but they can be a sign of something more serious. Caregiver Burnout and fatigue is a common factor in raising a child with special needs. The burnout can take the parent or mom to places mentally they weren’t expecting to go, and it can change their overall personality.
How can you tell if you are at the level of Burn out?
According to HelpGuide.org symptoms can include:
Lack of energy
Getting sick more frequently
Feeling constantly exhausted
Neglecting your own needs
Your entire life revolves around the caregiving, with very little satisfaction
Feeling helpless and hopeless
Being irritable and impatient with others around you
What can you do to manage the burnout and fatigue you are feeling?
Here are a few steps to help you cope.
Write it Out – For many, the tricky part of managing the stress is making sense of the emotions that are circling in their brains. Many of us feel like we have no one to talk to about what is going on in our lives. Sometimes the only place you can do is to go to a pen and paper, computer, or journal to manage the frustration. Writing can allow you get the ugly and destructive emotions out of your head. You can write privately and no one ever needs to see what you feel, or you can write and share it with friends or family. Either way, you are getting those thoughts out of your mind, they printed on paper, you can read them, reflect on them, and find a way to move on from those feelings.
Confide in a Loved One – No one is expected to manage the day to day care of a high needs child on their own, and no one is supposed to hold all of those emotions inside. Find someone you trust or love to talk through the feelings you are having. Reaching out to a spouse or partner, a parent, a sibling, family member or friend can help you connect and share. If you lack support from family or friends, seek out the help of a pastor, priest, or a counselor to talk through the pain and sadness you are feeling.
Ask for Help – There is no reason that you have to do everything for your child. As mothers, most of us find it challenging to seek out help when we are struggling. However, the stress of caring for a complex child can make life far more challenging for most mothers. The best thing you can do is find someone that can help you. Maybe a friend could help you by helping with laundry, doing dishes, running errands, or preparing a meal for you. You could also look into local resources that offer respite services for families caring for children with disabilities. Most counties provide respite care services for families. Find out from your local county what options you have for respite. Everyone deserves a break from time to time.
Join a Support Group – For many mothers in this community, the most challenging aspect is they lack the support of others understanding what they are going through on a daily basis. Find a local support group where you can go to talk with others caring for complex children. There are many places in your community where you can look for support groups: Public Schools, Churches, Community Centers, Non-profits, Doctor offices, and therapy centers all offer support groups for families of children with special needs. Take the step to attend a session and see if connecting with others walking your same path will help you feel better inside
Take Care of your Personal Health – One of the most challenging aspects for most mothers raising complex children is remembering to take care of themselves. Most of us watch our waistlines expand or deteriorate as we navigate the stress of caring for our children. Make sure you are making your health and self-care a priority. Exercise, try to eat healthy food and make sure you are making time for your own medical and mental health appointments. If you aren’t feeling good physically, it is going to be challenging to find the energy and drive to care for your child.
Focus on the Present – A challenging aspect for most parents in this situation is our tendency to look forward, think forward, and worry about what is going to happen to our children in the future. The truth is there is no way to know what will be for any of children’s futures and to use time and energy in the future only effects your present mood and anxiety. It won’t be easy to not think about your child’s future. Most parents like to plan their child’s life in their dreams and downtime. Instead of thinking about what is to come, focus on what you are doing now. Spend that time enjoying your child where they are at now, and remember that medical advancements and resources will change over time. Things you may not even dream possible today could be a reality someday for your child.
See your Doctor – If you get to a point where you are so far down and dark, that you feel like you can’t get back up it is time to seek professional help. Post Traumatic Stress and on-going traumatic stress is every day in raising complex children. Most of us live trauma on a daily basis managing medical situations or violent or dangerous behaviors, that can make any parent feel scared or desperate. The difference for most of us is the trauma is and will be on-going. When you know there is no end to your situation; it can make you feel overwhelmed, depressed and sad. Anxiety and depression are common for most moms caring for complex children. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, make an appointment to see your doctor and discuss treatment options to help you cope and feel better.
Caregiver Burnout and fatigue is a real aspect of parenting a complex child. There is no way for any mom to carry all of that stress and trauma on her shoulders. All of us need help, need a place to talk about our feelings, find a social connection, and we need to take care of our health. Recognizing when you are feeling burnt out will be critical for your ability to rebound and recharge.
For more information on other strategies you can take to manage your fatigue and burn out – check out these resources:
Tell us below –
Have you dealt with Caregiver Burnout?
What strategies have worked for you to manage the burnout?