This is an historical post from an earlier blog, Adopted Son of the Autism Family, which I had before this current blog. It is re-posted without modification (other than this introductory sentence).
One of the best analogies I learned in my clinical training had to do with the need for parents to take care of themselves. You’ve all heard this one, boarding a plane: “In case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, inflatable air masks will drop …” They tell you, if you are traveling with a child, secure your own mask before you help your child get their mask on. It counters every impulse most parents have. Autism parents, especially, drive, fly, run, leap, fight for their children. Every day. How could you even think about taking care of yourself before your child? But think about it: in that situation, if you try to put your child’s mask on first, you may pass out in the process due to lack of breathable air. What good would you be, to your child, in an unstable plane at 30,000 feet, unconscious? You would be no good to your child at all. The moral of the story is that, even if you don’t believe maintaining your own strength is important for you, it’s important for your son. It’s important for your daughter.
And with autism, as you all know, this is a cross-continental flight, not a puddle jump. We’re in it for the long haul.
At Camp Boggy Creek, I’ve often facilitated parent groups for parents of kids with various serious illnesses. I usually start my parent groups with an exercise where I have the parents break up in twos and find out three things about the person next to them: where they’re from, who’s in their family, and what they do for fun or to relax. A lot of our parents are resistant to the idea that they even can relax. But the amazing thing I’ve found is, once someone says, “Well, I love cruisers” or “I lift weights,” two or three other dads will chime in. Once I had two dads sitting next to each other, who’d never met before, and it turned out they were both restoring a classic muscle car. This builds community, and community provides some accountability for us all to encourage each other to take care of ourselves.
The Spartan Stores YMCA recently was generous enough to host a free night for our Teens and Young Adults in Puzzle Partners, our informal social supports program for high functioning people with autism. Although a mishap prevented the pool from being available, we got the run of the rest of the place. I got to play a dancing and zumba game on XBox 360 with Kinect, with three of our guys (and found out they can all dance better than I can!). I went for a run and got to know two young adults whose families have been friends forever. I got to play a bunch of other games. As I always try to, every time I tried to coax one more of our teens or young adults to play, but I also tried to drag parents in. And it was awesome when a parent wanted to go for a run, or another parent wanted to come downstairs and learn a light-board video game with us. Parents have to play, too.
What do you do to take care of yourselves? How do you make time for it? If you are married or have a partner, do you have a system to hold each other accountable and make time for each other, so you both keep your energy up?
Update: I got some great comments on Twitter. More than a few of you said you really don’t feel you have options to take care of yourselves. A lucky few live near extended family whom they trust with their child, and one is moving so she can rely more on relatives! (We have families of professionals interviewing in town come to our clinic so they can base their move decision based on quality of autism care. Our parents will drive, fly, walk barefoot if they have to!) Some noted friends help, but some noted they don’t feel safe yet that their friends or relatives can “handle” their kids. Where people do have support, a few manage a date night, but many wait for the kids to fall asleep to snag some couple time or even just a hot shower. Hopefully the melatonin’s working for those kids!