I realize that many of you who are special needs parents may think I’m crazy to suggest that you simplify your life and, in fact, I once agreed with you. The paperwork, the phone calls, the management of your child’s staff is all overwhelming. The life of the parent of a child or with special needs is filled with so much “extra” that you often feel like if you drop one thing, the rest will come crashing down.
Well, I’m here to tell you it won’t. I took my cue this week from the parents I know from my community who are raising neuro-typical children. We are very close with this family and the mom is always asking us to pray that she makes it through her schedule. I know they could benefit from slimming down their obligations, and I’m convinced most special needs families can do the same.
How? You’ll never simplify your life if you don’t first sit down and consider your priorities. Realize that if you are too stressed from all the duties and responsibilities, your kids will sense that and you’ll have more behavioral issues to deal with. I’ve noticed that when mom and dad calm down, the children have an easier time calming themselves down and seem to go with the flow.
Here is an example. My daughter was attending speech therapy once a week this summer and doing great, but once school started I needed to change her appointment. I didn’t want her to miss out, so I took the first option, a Thursday evening so she wouldn’t miss ANYTHING. The bus would drop her off from school, and I’d hustle the kids into the car. I was so stressed out about the times that I missed the first two sessions. Clearly this was not working, so I requested a Wednesday afternoon, when school is in session for a half day. She could miss out for weeks or longer while we waited, but I needed the sanity.
It turned out to be the right move as they had a spot a week later. We now have speech on Wednesday at 3PM, and I have plenty of time to get there and back in time for homework and dinner prep. In addition, my daughter now has a shorter day mid-week, rather than a very long Thursday, and all it took was one phone call.
Don’t wait for an exercise in stress to teach you this. While we all want our kids to be exposed to as many things as possible, we have to know when they are overdoing it. If you need to simplify and don’t know where to start, here are some tips:
- Write down all of your priorities. I recently created a list of things I’d like my children to learn separated by life skills, academic, and abstract concepts. I review each section, selecting one life or academic skill to deal with for the week. That allows me to see which I think are most important. Abstract concepts (like faith and culture) can be worked into conversation, meanwhile, I can target one skill and make sure our team is aware of it too.
- Prioritize big to small things. In my house, mornings are very difficult. It’s more important to me that my kids don’t miss the bus than to have their teeth brushed every single day. If we miss a day or two because of a tantrum or a crazy morning, so be it. They can always brush when they get home!
- Ask for help. If it means calling a teacher and asking her how you can do this homework with them, do it. I did this at back to school night and was given a great suggestion I would never have thought of myself!
- Reconsider the extra things you or your kids do that do not feed into this week’s chosen skill. Right now, for example, we are focusing on helping my daughter integrate into social situations, like becoming more included in her class. Speech is still important but a lesser goal at the moment. Drop things according to that when you’re overloaded.
- Remove redundancies. Zoe has speech therapy in school, so missing a few private sessions did not hurt her as much as the insane schedule taxed all of us.
- Accept things as they are. Enjoy your kids now, as they are. Sure, I’ll be doing somersaults when we finally potty train Zoe, but for now, it’s a difficult goal for both of us and one that we’ll address when she can better control her behaviors.
The name of the game is simplify, whatever that takes. It will vastly improve your life, and the more you can simplify, the more time you’ll have to relax and enjoy your family.