Self Care for Parents

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard that, in addition to meeting your parental responsibilities, it’s important to make time for yourself and to do things for yourself. That concept is true, but it’s easier said than done.

If you’re a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, finding the time for self-care can seem impossible. But it’s not. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. Necessary? Absolutely!

The reason you need to occasionally rest, relax, and do things for yourself is so you can be a better person for the people you love.

Let People Help You

As a responsible caregiver, it can be hard to let other people help you. You might fear they won’t do the job the exact same way you do it or they won’t provide the same level of care you do. Even though both of those reasons might be true, they don’t mean the care someone else can provide won’t be sufficient.

The fact is, you’re not the only person in the world who can take care of a family with a child with autism. Millions of parents around the world do it. Thousands of professional caregivers do it too. Even though you may know your family better than anyone else possibly can, someone else can successfully contribute to the process of being a caregiver for your loved ones.

Don’t Feel Guilty

One reason you may not take time for yourself is because you feel guilty if you’re not paying attention to your child on the spectrum or other family members. Well, that’s just wrong. You should definitely not feel guilty about leading your own life once in a while because self-care will help you be the best person you can be, which will make you a better caregiver. It’s a win-win situation.

You don’t need to be doing everything for everybody else. Sometimes you need to ask the question, “What do I need?” After you answer that question, make arrangements to do what you need to do for yourself.

It’s Not Always Easiest to Do It Yourself

Delegating responsibility can be difficult because it takes time to train someone else to do things the way you see fit. In addition, occasionally delegating some of your caregiver responsibilities will require those in your care to adjust to having someone else do things for them in a slightly different fashion.

In the end, being able to take care of yourself once in a while will make the time and effort worth it. And your family members will adjust from their old routine to their new routine. In fact, they just might like not having you around all of the time and being able to interact with other people. Plus, if you feel better about yourself as a result of a little self-care, they’ll feel better about you too.

Risk Versus Reward

You may feel it’s risky to let others provide care for your child with autism, but you’ll eventually realize there are rewards for you and your family members. Wouldn’t it be nice for you to spend a few hours doing something just for yourself? A warm bubble bath would be relaxing, right? For sure. How about a pedicure? Delightful. Or a nap in the middle of the afternoon? Heaven on earth!

Imagine what it would be like to have lunch with a friend at a nice restaurant and to engage in an adult conversation. Or you could just walk around your neighborhood with your spouse while holding hands. Allowing someone else to occasionally take care of your child will let you reconnect with the people and activities you may have neglected due to being so focused on your role as a parent and caregiver.

A Different Perspective

Additional benefits of allowing others to help provide care for your family are meeting some really nice people and seeing things from another perspective. Taking a step back from the role of caregiver will let you see how your child on the spectrum responds to other types of personal interaction. You may also be able to learn some new things you can do to help yourself, your child, and your family—if you’re open to that.

Take a Break

ASI has a Direct Care Program. Several of the services offered by ASI provide an opportunity for parents to step away from their caregiver role, which allows them time to do something for themselves. In a recent article, we posted about the services available through an FS Medicaid Waiver, several of the services mentioned involve someone working with your child without you needing to be present.

Chief among those services is Respite Care, the whole point of which is to allow caregivers time to focus on anything but taking care of someone else. Participant Assistance and Care (PAC) services are similar, with the difference being that PAC services have some specific goals attached to them. Several of the other popular services mentioned in that article involve fun activities your child can participate in without you needing to be present.

When you take a break from being the primary caregiver, your child is able to bond with someone new, participate in activities that are outside of the normal routine of everyday life, and gain a sense of independence. It may take a little time for children on the spectrum to become comfortable with a different caregiver and routine, but eventually, new caregivers and activities will become their new norm and they’ll realize they don’t always need to depend on their parents.

The Bottom Line of Self Care

When you devote time to self-care, you’ll soon realize that any guilt you may have felt about not always be available to care for your family served no real purpose. You’ll eventually also understand that there are many trustworthy caregivers—family, friends, and professionals—who truly want to help your family.

The bottom line is that it’s acceptable and important to make time for yourself and to take care of yourself. As a result, you’ll be a better person and a better caregiver.


Thanks to Ashley Garcia, Autism Society of Indiana Direct Care Ally, for her contribution to this article. If you have any questions, please contact her at agarcia@inautism.org or by calling 800-609-8449.

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