Some challenges are hard to write about because they expose the raw we carry inside. But sometimes we have to talk about what it is like parenting in the trenches — whatever that means for you — because what I am writing here is about you, the parent, and how you are dealing with the extra needs in your family.
Parenting kids with high needs affects everyone in the family. Whether it’s a child with a disability, with mental health issues, or with trauma (or a combination of those), the reality is that at some point — and as hard as it is to admit — there might come a time when mama needs help.
It is so easy to focus on what our children need, to allow a schedule to become dictated by their therapists, specialists, or counselors. As parents, we do everything we can to meet their needs, sometimes at our own expense.
Now, let me pause for a moment and acknowledge two things:
1. This is not about our children with disabilities, this is about us, the parents, and the extra responsibilities we have and the lack of support we experience. This is stress from having to fight for our kids with insurance, schools, professionals, and sometimes even family.
2. There are many parents out there who have kids with disabilities and who do not feel they live with extra needs — these words might not be for those parents. But this is for the parents out there who wish someone out there cared enough and had the courage to enter into their pain, the parents who have many times locked themselves in the bathroom and sobbed.
Parenting children with high needs can be so incredibly hard and painfully lonely.
My middle daughter not only has cerebral palsy, but like many other adopted children, she lives with trauma from spending the first four years of her life in a Ukrainian orphanage. She is not the only one living with the trauma; it affects everyone in the family. We have surrounded her with love, affirmation, and support, yet so often I’ve felt incredibly inadequate and have struggled to pull myself together as challenges come our way. Nothing has broken me more than parenting a child from a hard place.
And there came a time when she was really struggling emotionally, and we were all gasping for hope — hope that things would get better tomorrow, yet tomorrows seemed to offer no reprieve. And one day my oldest daughter said, “I feel like our family is falling apart!” And that statement was all it took for me to break down, sobbing, and realize I needed help because I felt so broken. So very broken.
I was not living, I was merely surviving. I could not keep living like this; my family could not keep living like this.
Then one day as I talked to one of her therapists over the phone she said, “I see trauma symptoms in you, too, I was wondering if you would be open to doing neurofeedback. The tension you are living with is not helping you or your daughter.”
Just the day before I’d told my husband I felt like I had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and perhaps I needed to see a counselor. That call confirmed I needed help.
So I want to talk to you, my fellow parent who feels wrecked: it is OK to ask for help.
There was a study done that looked at the mental health of parents of children with a “special health care need.” These parents are those who identified themselves as having a child with a “chronic disease or disability” or “emotional problems.” The results of the study were as follows:
Cross-sectional analyses indicated that parents of a child with special care needs reported poorer self-rated mental health, greater depressive symptoms, and more restrictions in instrumental activities of daily living (IADL). Parents of a child with special health care needs had greater increases in depressive symptoms over time and greater declines in instrumental activities of daily living than parents of typically developing children. Perceived control was a robust predictor of all health outcomes over time.
We need to start talking about this. This is a big deal!
What happens in our home — the stress, the extra needs, the lack of sleep, the limited support — it affects us.
We are more likely to struggle with depression, anxiety, and poor mental health. So what are we going to do about it? We do whatever it takes to care for our kids, but will we do whatever it takes to take care of us? Our kids need us.
So friend, pick up the phone and make an appointment to see a counselor. I’ve been there, and seeing a therapist, even if only a few times, does a lot to my heart. And especially if you feel like you do not have close friends who are willing or able to walk this journey with you, get a counselor! It is so important to have someone to talk to. You are worth it.
Pick up the phone and make an appointment with your doctor. Get on meds if necessary. I’ve been there, it is humbling, but it can make such a difference. For a while my anxiety was becoming debilitating and I had to ask for help. There is no shame in battling your own mental health issues, and it is so important to have a clear head as you parent your kids. Friend, you are worth it.
Talk to friends and family about needing help. Sometimes help comes from the most unexpected places. You are worth it.
Find something that gives you life. Whatever that is, make time for you. You need time for yourself, you really do. Please do not feel guilty about a girl’s night out, do not feel guilty if you enjoy time away from your kids. It is OK. Go, have fun. You are worth it.
I want you to know you are not alone. I know what it is like to feel wrecked.
And don’t forget that taking care of us is the best thing we can do for our kids.
Your kids need a mama ready to face the world and its challenges, and sometimes mama needs help to get there. It’s OK. You are worth it.