I think of it as a state of mind. One that exists along a spectrum from feeling blue, to elated with neutral somewhere in the middle. Most people move along the happiness spectrum from day to day, hour to hour or even moment to moment depending on the situation and circumstances.
Special needs Mom’s tend to have overly full plates and the combination of exhaustion, challenging situations, and constant stress can leave our mood falling more toward the neutral or unhappy end of the spectrum. However, that doesn’t mean we are stuck there. There are several things we can do for ourselves to help us shift the balance and move closer to the happier side.
1) Schedule time for yourself.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s important to make time for yourself. Schedule it on your calendar as if it was one of your kid’s appointments. Taking care of yourself is important enough to rate a spot on your calendar.
2) Slow down.
I believe this is true of mom’s in general, but I think it’s particularly true for special needs moms, we seem to regularly try to cram too much into 24 hours. Running kids to extracurriculars, doctors appointments, and therapy visits, along with getting homework completed, keeping the house in some semblance of order, and trying to have some family time, well 24 hours just isn’t enough time some days. Prioritize what you need to accomplish, pare down your schedule where you can, and just slow down and take a breath. There is unlikely to be any life-long detrimental effects of missing one therapy appointment or skipping soccer practice or eating peanut butter and jelly for dinner once in a while. The effect of a happier mom, who has more time to play with her kids is likely to far outweigh any negative effects on this one.
3) Forgive yourself.
We are not always going to get it right. It seems that while parenting a child with special needs there are about a million opportunities to make decisions and when you’re making that many choices, some of them are going to be wrong. Accept that you’ve done the best you could and move on. Don’t dwell on the negative, don’t beat yourself up about how things could have been different. Learn from mistakes when you can, forgive yourself and move on.
4) Maintain a positive outlook.
It’s not always easy to look on the bright side, sometimes it’s a challenge to even see the bright side. Nevertheless, search for the positive, it’s worth the effort. Even in pretty miserable situations there is probably a bright side, or at the very least, a it could have been worse side. Focus on that rather than the negative.
There are a lot of good reasons to smile. Smiling makes you happier, just the act of putting on a smile can release endorphins that can improve your mood. Smiling is contagious so smiling at someone can lead to them smiling and then you both feel happier. It’s easy and it’s free, so flash your pearly whites at someone today.
6) Ask for help, accept help.
Yes, it’s ok to ask for help. On those days when you can’t figure out how you’re supposed to have one kid at soccer at the same time another kid needs to be at physical therapy, yes, it’s ok to ask for help. When your neighbor, or your friend, or your cousin or whoever asks if you need anything, say yes. If you can’t think of anything they can do for you at that moment, well, let them know you want to keep the offer in reserve because you know you will need something sooner or later.
We’re back to the endorphins again on this one folks. Yes, it’s a little harder work than flashing a smile but exercise also releases endorphins. Finding a physical activity that you enjoy will do even more to improve your mood. And of course, making time in your schedule to do whatever exercise you decide on is key. I find it’s easier to include my kinds in my exercise routine, swimming as a family, taking a family martial arts class, and coaching for Strong as Steel Adaptive Sports are all fun ways I stay active and don’t need to find childcare.
8) Get some fresh air.
Sunshine and fresh air can do wonders for your mood. Spend some time outdoors and soak in a bit of sunshine (with your SPF 15 on of course).
9) Share what you love with your kids.
What are you passionate about? Can you find a way to enjoy what you love to do with your children? Listen to music together, go for a hike, swim, paint or watch a movie. For instance I love to ice skate, due to his cerebral palsy my son can’t slap on hockey skates and glide along the ice with me. He can however play sled hockey and for years I would volunteer for the team and race him around the rink. Although he no longer plays sled hockey (see number two, we had to pare down the hectic schedule and make some tough choices), we both have very fond memories of skating together.
10) Let go of expectations.
I love being a mom and I adore my kids but motherhood isn’t all sunshine and roses. Everyday isn’t going to be the best day. Some days are going to be hard. Some are going to be miserable, and for us special needs Mom’s, some days it will probably feel like your heart is being ripped out of your chest. I think we can probably agree that raising a child with special needs has its ups and downs.
Letting go of expectations will go a long way towards making your days happier. I spend a lot of time planning fun events for my kids and when the day I planned doesn’t go as I hope it will, it can be very disheartening. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a Mom is to let go of these expectations.
If I plan a trip to a water park and my daughter refuses to go on any slides and becomes hysterical at the mere suggestion that she should try one, or my son is exhausted from all the stairs and swimming and starts falling down every few steps, or I whack my leg on a slide and need to go to the ER (yes, all of these events have in fact happened to my family at a water park) it’s easy to feel extremely disappointed and unhappy. However, I try to remember that the problem is my expectations for the day not being met. Just because things didn’t go as I hoped they would in my minds’ eye, doesn’t mean the day is ruined. If we don’t go on a single slide and spend the day in the wave pool or the tiny tot zone and both my kids are happy, then it was a great day. If I have to piggy back my wiped out son out to the car and tuck him in to bed early, well that must mean he had a blast. As a special needs Mama life rarely proceeds as planned, work to take things as they come and don’t get bogged down in your expectations for situations.
To all of you special needs mom’s out there working hard everyday to take care of, nurture and love your amazing kids, I hope that at least one of the things on this list will help you feel a little bit happier.
As always, please seek professional help if your concerns with mood become severe or if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or anyone else.