No matter how strong or positive you may be about the task of parenting, stress is hard to avoid. For those of us who are raising children with special needs, the stress we handle is multiplied. Instead of trying to ignore it, I have found ways to handle it positively, and it’s made all the difference.
I love my kids and all that comes with parenting, but I have to acknowledge that raising two kids with Down syndrome brings extra challenges all the time! From facing medical issues to finding the proper academic accommodations for them, to encouraging them to take full advantage of their unique abilities, my kids come with their own special circumstances and stressors.
Throughout my life, both before and after having kids, I have found myself stressed and desperate about things that I couldn’t change or at least couldn’t fix immediately. Those experiences have taught me to calm down, close my eyes, and focus on solutions instead of problems. In this manner, I’ve worked toward finding ways to make the best of every experience.
Here are my tips for handling stress in hard times.
Count your blessings. My son has been ill for more than six weeks with a serious lung condition as a result of asthma and repeated respiratory infections during the winter. Instead of focusing on my lack of sleep, the financial strain, and medical prognosis or declaring this to be the toughest time of our lives, I have decided to count the blessings of having good people around us for this experience. I’m grateful for the doctors, the nurses, the ER personnel and all the incredible people who find fulfillment while volunteering at hospitals. They bring joy and hope to us through small gestures like bringing us a teddy bear, a therapy dog to say Hi to the kids or even an extra portion of fries and ketchup.
Exercise patience. Understand that most solutions are not immediate, and that getting anxious will not change anything except make the stress harder to handle. In the personal case of my child, I know it will take time for him to get back to his typical routine, so I have two options: get desperate and stressed about all my pending work, or accept that there are things that can wait, be rescheduled and moved to a lower rank on my list of priorities while I take care of my son.
Celebrate real friends. Real friends are always close by, and they’ll be the first ones to show up if needed. Don’t expect them to keep track of your needs on your behalf, as everybody is busy in their own world. But they will be there to support you if you tell them you need them. Many times friends don’t have an answer or cure-all solution either, but they can help you just by listening and reminding you of how great you are. Perhaps they help by giving you a break by taking care of your child for few hours or helping out with stuff that you have not been able to do at home. Laundry, taking out the garbage can, or just holding your hand without saying a single word are all ways that real friends can be more valuable than any solution to your predicament.
Make a plan. We lose patience and self-control when we feel lost and unable to keep track of our lives. Creating a basic plan that includes simple techniques or reminders of the things you need to do to keep going will keep you motivated and focused on your goals instead of allowing yourself to feel down, bombarded with tasks that seem impossible to accomplish.
Schedule. Buy a big wall planner and use it for scheduling all the things going on your life. Checking off accomplished items when done will help you feel proud and hopeful. Use a different schedule for setting your child´s needs like medications, therapies and medical appointments. Keep everyone organized to stay on top of things and bring you a feeling of accomplishment and control.
Life as a parent of children with special needs is not always easy. After getting through the most unimaginably tough times, we become stronger and more determined people both individually and as a family. Gracefully handling the stress of raising children with special needs is a learned art and, for me, being able to share that hope with others is the real gift of learning how to handle difficult times.