In today’s demanding world of parenting children with disabilities, self care takes a back seat. Unconditional love drives parents to meet the challenges and needs of children with physical disabilities, and it requires time and unfaltering devotion. The fact that self-care falls short of the ‘to do’ list is not surprising. In 2006, a report by Murphy, Christian, Caplin, Young stated caregivers overlook their own health due to several barriers. This includes lack of time, respite hours, and qualified alternative care providers. Further, “The prevalence of stress for parents with DHH children is not unexpected. (Hintermair, 2006)
There is often no substitute for the quality of care parents give their children, but how do parents find time to care for their health and wellbeing? A 2015 Partners for A Greater Voice parent survey found that 44% of caregivers had no time to care for self. The survey also found that over 41% of parents have high degrees or extremely high degrees of stress in their lives when caring for their deaf or hard of hearing children. Another 35% said they have moderate degrees of stress. As parents of children with hearing differences, we understand the energy it takes and the commitment to care for family members. PIPP-SEIGEL et al studied stress in 184 mothers with dhh children and found that the availability of personal and social resources (parent networks, relatives, friends, deaf adults, professionals, etc.) most influences a parent’s ability to cope. Prioritizing wellbeing as an important item on the ‘to do’ list must be acknowledged.
How do caregivers devote time to self? Is 30 minutes of ‘time out’ each day attainable? I would have to argue an undeniable ’yes’! Your mind, your body, and your heart matter most when it comes to parenting. These three parts of ‘you’ need attention even before attending to the needs of your child. Exercise, meditation, yoga, sleep and good eating habits are some of the few essential ways to reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, support productivity, happiness, and overall wellness.
Parenting demands a certain cognitive, social and emotional preparedness to ensure children are ready for their futures and an ever changing world. Parenting is time consuming. I get it. I was there, running in all directions, tripping over toys on the floor, trying not to burn a pot of boiling pasta, while thinking about the upcoming IEP meeting, the medical appointments that needed to be scheduled, or the money that needed to fall from the sky to buy those new hearing aids. (before hearing aid legislature came to pass) My mind raced with responsibilities to support my children in school, to manage our home, cope with healthcare, and prepare for work. My body ached. Naps? Forget about it! Social time? Thank goodness for our friendly audiologists, doctors and other parents we occasionally got to have adult conversations with.
I know of many people who love and enjoy sports and exercise; some who do it “just because I know it’s good for me”. Jogging, spin class, and other aerobic exercise helps the mind and body release tension and build strength. If you find a healthy activity that makes you happy then great! Ask yourself if it gives you pleasure, and if it truly helps to nurture and restore balance to your mind, body, and heart. Does this activity you love help you see clearly? Are you more energetic as a result? Can you manage your day with a rhythm and minute to minute evenness, steadiness?
For many of us however, we seem unable to spare the time for exercise (over 40% say they have no time to care for themselves). Our minds are likely stuck in overdrive because the ‘to do’ list drives and controls our lives. Needs of family, health, education, and disability care can hold us prisoner. We innately know how important self-care is, but for some reason we have a hard time carving out any daily ritual.
Why is self-care more difficult to weave into a day than throwing laundry into the wash, cleaning the pile of dirty dishes, having a glass of wine, or watching TV for chill time. Avoidance perhaps? Guilt? Denial?
I learned the value and importance of self-care the hard way. I thought that tennis would give me social time on the court with adults, the exercise I needed, and provide a break from responsibilities. My tennis swing often failed to hit the overhead or net shot with accuracy. My heart raced just trying to get there on time. Stress from being a caregiver to two children with hearing and other differences was compounded with the physical demands of hard court tennis matches. Physical pains in my neck, back, feet, knees were trying to communicate with me for years. They finally won the battle, forcing me into chiropractic care for two years, massage therapy and ACL knee surgery. I was a parent with high degrees of stress. My ailing body forced me to listen, and I had to find a way to unwind. I knew I still had to care for the needs of my children, but something had to be done about my health. I was fully and completely drained from work and parenting two children with hearing differences and other conditions. Self care didn’t come soon enough, but nonetheless I finally learned how to make it a priority.
You say you have no time to care for your mind, your body, your heart? I thought the same. Now I carve out time each day with the following. These rituals lighten my burden of grief, open a stressed and tense body, calm a chattering mind, balance a wacky nervous system, and ground me with clear intentions. There are countless books that reference choices in self care. Find what works for you. Here is what works for me.
- As soon as I open my eyes, I slowly emerge from the warmth of my bed and take 15 minutes every morning to do these things: a.) I thank God for this new day and say a prayer of appreciation. b.) I take 20 seconds to scrape my tongue (approved by Ayurvedic Institute and the American Dental Association). Health benefits include removing bacteria from the tongue, improving taste buds, and supporting digestive system; c.) I oil pull: I take a teaspoon of organic coconut oil and swish in my mouth for 10-15 minutes while I MINDFULLY prepare tea or coffee, empty the dish washer, and maybe hit the bathroom. I drink a large glass of room temperature water (after spitting out the oil). Oil pulling benefits include removal of toxins built up in the mouth overnight, as well as brightening of teeth!
- Each morning I sit in a comfortable position for another 15 minutes and I meditate. Sometimes I choose not to empty the dishwasher or make the coffee and I sit for 15 minutes swishing coconut oil. While meditating (and possibly swishing gently), I notice and feel my breath move in and out the nose. I notice and feel how inhales inflate my body and how exhales empty out. From a seat of conscious awareness I scan sensations in my legs, arms, hips, shoulders, heart. I relax and allow whatever arises in mind and physical body. In other words, I observe present moment sensations, including thoughts that come and go from my mind. (a different article explains mediation as a state of being and provides suggestions). Meditation balances the nervous system and reduces stress, stimulates mindfulness and awakens my daily intentions.
- I mindfully walk the dog, and in nature whenever possible. I do not live in a city, and I can easily find a wooded path or walk on the side of the road. Our streets are encased in trees and wild life. During the winter, the snow is beautiful. Listening, smelling and absorbing nature’s energy and beauty gives me pleasure, and peace. Walks may take 10 or 45 minutes, depending on the day and work schedule; plus a dog needs to do his business!
- I am aware of what I put into my body. I drink lots of water (room temperature), and watch what and when I eat. There are a lot of toxins, preservatives, and junk food tempting our brains to overindulge. I partake in fruits, vegetables, meats, healthy grains and nuts. It takes will power to resist the urge for a cookie. When I am present to mindful eating and drinking then I have made tremendous progress from the days of dipping into cookie jars and picking at the kid’s plates. (Okay, maybe an occasional ice cream cone is deserving!)
- I found yoga, or I should say yoga found me. The stretches and quiet class setting got me to still mind and body. Long held stretches released tension, and observation of yoga sensations taught me to be present. At first I felt the physical aspects of yoga, but then I came to learn its benefits on the mind, inner awakening of the spirit, and peace in my days (I learned to let go). I started with one class each week, and now I practice regularly. In fact, yoga helped me so much that I became a yoga instructor in 2014.
These fabulous five expand my happiness, improve my health, and make my life more enjoyable. Each morning I start with a 30 minute routine and am ready to move through the day mindfully and intentionally. My yoga practice and yoga teaching has replaced the tennis and supports a very busy and balanced lifestyle. My days feel a certain rhythm, and peace pours over my burdened heart and mind. I parent more effectively. I love more intently. I appreciate what I have learned from this remarkable journey. I feel a certain freedom, a burden lifted from my shoulders, and a knowing that things turn out the way they are intended to.
Self-care needs to be a priority especially for parents raising a child with disabilities. It should be a right of way! How do your body, mind and heart truly respond to everything you must accomplish in a day? Finding time for self-care is challenging, but worth carving into your schedule. Try it for 30 days and see how you feel! I know how priceless time can be and how much time and effort it takes to care for children with disabilities and other family members. Male or female, take a 30 minute ‘time out’ for your body and mind each day. Choose what makes you happy and blissful. You have to decide how you care for yourself; make ‘time out’ a priority.
Here is the thing though: one has to be disciplined. Thinking about it just doesn’t cut it. Begin a morning routine before the kids awake, before the sun rises, and before the hectic day unfolds. Consider fifteen or thirty minutes during a child’s nap time. Perhaps as you wait at the bus stop you take three to five minutes to breathe and be still. Instead of TV, sit quietly with your thoughts. Discover yoga and meditation! Start with whatever works for you, and then intentionally set a goal to carve out time every day. Your mind, body, and heart deserve to be nurtured too!
 Murphy, Christian, Caplin, Young, 2006.
 Partners for A Greater Voice, Inc. Parent Education Survey, 2016
 PIPP and Seigel, et al, 2002.
 Ayurvedic health practices originated over 3000 years ago; the world’s oldest holistic healing system. Its origin is India, but medical and health practices have spread worldwide. It is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit.
Other known Ayurvedic benefits include: clears toxins & bacteria from the tongue; helps remove coating on the tongue that leads to bad breath; helps eliminate undigested food particles from the tongue; enhances the sense of taste; promotes overall oral & digestive health (www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living).
 Although many natural health practitioners claim that oil pulling with coconut or sesame oil may be beneficial for oral health, there is no scientific evidence to recommend this practice as a supplementary therapy for conditions like tooth decay or gingivitis, according to the American Dental Association. (www.reference.com/health/benefits-pulling-coconut-oil)
written by Joanne Travers, Founder/Director of Parents for A Greater Voice, Inc.
Information from this article should be cited/referenced as: “Partners for A Greater Voice, Inc. Content derived from Essential Programs to Coach and Empower (2016). Ipswich, Massachusetts U.S.A. www.greatervoice.com”