BY DEANNA PICON
“Wow! Another year, gone already. Where did the time go?” you ask yourself while picking up decorations at your local department store. And, as you reminisce about the challenges of 2016, you think how nice it will be to wipe the slate clean and start a new year filled with bright possibilities.
With planning, realistic expectations and a positive attitude, 2017 can be a great year. That may seem impossible to imagine because of all the pressures of work, a home, and raising a special needs child. You might feel that a new year will just bring “more of the same.” But with a fresh mindset, you can improve and re-energize your life and focus on a more optimistic future. All you have to do is follow these 12 easy resolutions:
1. Give Yourself The Credit You Deserve
Before you bid 2016 adieu, it’s important to give yourself a pat on the back for surviving this year. Recognize yourself for being the great parent that you are. Day in and day out, you’re taking care of your special needs child. Thanks to you, they are getting to their doctors’ and therapists’ appointments. You’re the one working with teachers to help ensure your son or daughter is getting an appropriate education. Because of you, your child’s daily and personal needs are being met with care and love.
You’re a rock star in your child’s life and he/she would be lost without you. You deserve a medal for the heroic things you do on an everyday basis. Nobody’s perfect, but you’re pretty amazing!
2. Make Yourself A Priority
It’s important to take care of yourself, especially with everything on your plate. So make your needs and well-being a priority in 2017. This may be one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to do, because you feel like your son or daughter should be the priority. Do it not for yourself, but for your child. Putting time toward your well-being now is like making an “investment” in your child’s future.
3. Get Healthy And Fit
This should be near the top of your New Year’s resolutions list. It may not be as exciting as jetting off for a Caribbean vacation or buying a fancy new car, but good physical and mental health is something everyone should strive and be grateful for. Make time to eat properly, get at least six hours of sleep and exercise. You don’t have to join an expensive diet plan or pay for a gym membership to do this. Walking in a mall for 30 minutes, while holiday shopping is time-efficient. Any sport or physical activity can help you work off stress and stay fit.
There are plenty of free resources and information on healthy eating on the Internet, as well as numerous fitness apps that can start you on a healthier routine in 2017. Exercise DVDs are great to use at home, especially during the cold winter months and may be available at no cost by borrowing them from your local public library. Dancing at home to your favorite music can give you a great workout, while working off stress at the same time. The point is to just get moving. And after eating and enjoying all those holiday meals, this is a perfect time to burn some calories.
You may also want to explore meditation or other relaxation techniques that will help keep your emotional balance.
4. Save Now For Future Fun
Everyone needs a little something to get them motivated or inspired, especially in the beginning of a new year. So make a short and attainable list of things that you’d like to do or buy in 2017. Purchase a medium to large size piggy bank, cover it in holiday wrapping paper and label it “Bonus Cash Splurge.” At the end of each day, put all your loose coins and any dollar bills you can spare in it and watch your savings grow. Use the extra money to do or buy something that will make you happy this year.
5. Plan Your “Good Times” Getaways
Grab your 2017 calendar now and start plotting your secret strategy for fun and adventure in the new year.
The first step is to mark all of your important dates and times on the calendar. Review your child’s academic calendar and highlight, in bright colors, all school breaks, as well as national holidays when schools are closed. These are the times when you’ll need extra help or one or two “Mental Health” days off.
After you’re done with the school breaks, circle important days such as your birthday, wedding anniversary or other special occasions on the calendar. Now, armed with these important dates, it’s time to implement your “getaway” strategy. And what better time to start than with the holiday season! When family and good friends ask what they should get you for a holiday gift, you can do yourself a huge favor by asking for one thing – a few hours of “personal time” or one or two days off for a quick getaway with your spouse, girlfriends or fishing buddies.
By giving your friends and family substantial notice, such as one to three months in advance, everyone will have plenty of time to plan accordingly. And how wonderful that’ll be for you! So you may spend five days taking care of your child during the spring recess break, but your brother and sister-in-law will watch your kid(s) over the weekend. You’ll know your child is safe and well-cared for, and that you don’t have to pay for child care. Does life get any better than this?
If you plan this well, you’ll be covered for a majority of the time periods you highlighted on your calendar. That way, you’ll have something to look forward to during the entire year.
6. Accept Help – Guilt Free!
Your friends and family are happy to give you a well-deserved, personal break. Always remember, there’s no shame in asking for and accepting help. Not only can it help you enjoy yourself, letting others assist you will also make them feel good. Nobody loses and everyone wins.
Take full advantage of these opportunities. Do something that you truly enjoy, or that you simply never get the chance to do in your busy life. The simplest way of arranging this kind of break is usually to ask your friends and family to come and take care of your child in your home. Familiar surroundings will make it easier for your special needs child and wonderful caregiver.
Giving you time off in 2017, with peace of mind, is the best birthday, holiday or anniversary present your friends and family can give you— and it won’t cost them a dime!
7. Carve Out Some Time For You
Personal time doesn’t just have to be reserved for when you’re out of your house. You can also take a mini “escape” break at home. Put it down on your calendar, like your child’s therapist or medical appointment, because it’s just as important. It can be as little as 30 minutes; just make sure everyone in your home knows it’s there and you aren’t to be disturbed.
Let your spouse or possibly an older sibling watch your special needs child. Go to your bedroom or another room and simply close the door and tune everyone out for a while. Read a favorite magazine, watch TV or speak with a good friend. Having an engaging conversation is one of the easiest ways to unwind – whether you’re venting, laughing, or just catching up.
8. Stay True To Yourself
Don’t allow your child’s disability to define you. Like any parent, much of your life is going to be centered on your children, but that doesn’t mean you should completely abandon the hobbies, events, and activities you enjoy doing, even if it’s once a month. Give yourself permission to have a good time and not feel guilty about it.
9. Consider A Job Or Career Change
2017 may be the year to look for a job that offers more flexibility, which will allow you to manage all your responsibilities with a greater ease. Or maybe it’s the time to fulfill your dream of turning your love of cooking into a part-time catering business.
10. Learn A New Hobby Or Skill
Learning and growing as an individual can make you feel better about yourself. It’s also a great way to build self-confidence. Many schools and universities offer online courses and degrees which allow you to advance at your own pace and schedule. Consider attending a fun workshop at a neighborhood arts and crafts store or taking a computer or language course at your local public library.
11. Spend Quality Time With Loved Ones
Reach out to your friends and family more in 2017, despite how hectic your schedule is. Keep in mind, they don’t like or love you less because you have a child with special needs. In fact, close friends and relatives probably admire and respect you more than ever after seeing how difficult it can be to raise a child with a disability.
Don’t shut these people out of your life, and don’t shut yourself in. Spending time with those who love and care about you will make you feel good and recharge your batteries. It will also help the bonds with family and friends grow stronger, deeper, and longer.
And remember, staying in touch doesn’t always have to be in person. Call for a quick chat or send a friendly text. The main point is stay connected to each other.
12 Cut Yourself Some Slack
Everyone has bad days, and whether it involves your job, parenting, or the everyday pressures of life, the world can become an overwhelming place at the drop of a hat. Managing all aspects of a special needs child daily living – school, therapy, medical, personal – while trying to balance work/family responsibilities is no easy feat for even the most organized and devoted parent.
In times like these, it’s okay to step back, breathe and take a moment. A nice, hot bath or shower with your favorite soap can do wonders. Or, if you’d prefer, pour a cold beer and sit back for the big game. Sleep late on a weekend and don’t set your alarm clock.
These little changes in your every day life can, over time, make an incredible difference both in your overall mood and your sense of well-being. Above all, acknowledge and reward yourself for being the wonderful parent that you are. Because of all you do and how hard you work, be sure to do something nice for yourself, no matter how small! Buy yourself something you’ve been wanting. Take yourself out to eat.
Whatever you do, it comes down to having a healthy respect for yourself and the circumstances you are handling. Give yourself the credit, and the reward that you deserve.
Special needs families face extra challenges in life, but a disability does not define your child, and it shouldn’t define you and your family. Let’s make 2017 the year when YOU start defining your own family’s future and working toward the great, fulfilling life you all deserve!•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Deanna Picon is the founder of Your Autism Coach, LLC, which provides personalized guidance, comprehensive support programs and seminars for parents of special needs children. Her personal mission is to empower parents as they advocate for their children, while balancing productive work and family lives. She received her BA in psychology and BA in broadcast journalism from Syracuse University. Deanna is a parent of a non-verbal, young man with autism. She is the author of The Autism Parents’ Guide to Reclaiming Your Life. Deanna can be reached at www.YourAutismCoach.com or @yourautismcoach.