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Self-Care Crash Course

By Lindsay Hutton

Self-Care Crash Course

Before you can truly be good for anyone, you need to look after yourself first, or so the old saying goes. As parents and caregivers of children with hearing loss, sometimes it can feel like practicing self-care feels selfish, or at least an afterthought. Though many parents and caregivers often put the needs and care of their children before that of themselves and their relationships (and rightly so), a happy balance can and should be forged.

"When Ella was born, I don’t think we left her with a sitter for the first three years,” says Scott of Victoria, whose daughter was born with profound hearing loss in both ears. “We rarely ate out, we barely slept. All newborns come with a few months of sleepless nights, but when you’ve got a special needs kid, all that worry is magnified by 10."

A recent study of parents in the US suggested that postpartum depression, relationship difficulties, and treatment for anxiety and depression are increased by nearly a third for those with children of special needs. However, the study is quick to note that by engaging with the basic elements of self-care can be useful in staving off caregiver burnout and creating a healthful home environment.

Self-care can offer several benefits. For example, by taking the time to unwind, for example, taking 15 minutes to read a favorite magazine or spending a half an hour on the telephone with a close friend during naptime, can yield a much-needed energy boost!

Here are a few strategies to help you stay sane, well and rested.

Get Connected

Regardless of a child’s disability, all new parents will experience a sort of culture shock. Furthermore, no matter what the age of any child, it can be useful to connect with other parents who are entering into similar territory when questions arise. “My best piece of advice to parents is to seek out other parents to network with,” says Norah-Lynn McIntyre, the executive director of VOICE for Hearing Impaired Children, an advocacy organization that offers a parent support program. “Whatever you’re going through, I can almost guarantee other parents in our group have been through as well.”

Identify Your Needs

There isn’t one catch-all solution or formula to addressing the self-care needs of parents. However, everyone needs to think about their physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual needs — it’s important to sit down and try to identify the ways your own needs in these categories can be reached.

"As a single parent, I have less time than most," says Ann-Marie of Cornwall, ON, whose daughter Laura was born with hearing loss in both ears. "I had to learn to identify what I needed to do for me so I wouldn't go crazy. I realized that if I didn't get out at least once a week on my own, or find some time to exercise, I wasn't going to be a particularly happy and centered parent. What wasn't good for me wasn't good for Laura, either."

Identify Your Priorities

Being under an eternal time crunch and resisting feelings of alienation aside, your daily to-do list can seem never-ending and forever growing. As parents, former priorities of self-care and home care can often start to seem less and less important -or even impossible.

Many experts in healthy home environments insist on a holistic approach in identifying priorities in family life, meaning that every member of the family’s needs are often interconnected. For example, an exhausted, sick parent who has not found time to eat properly or exercise is not as likely to navigate a trip to the park with their child. Nor will a stressed—out member of a family have much interest in maintaining positive social relationships with friends and family. As such, looking after oneself isn’t only a cornerstone in healthy personhood, but in healthy families as well.

"Finding balance is different for every family, I think," says Scott. "What we had to do was incorporate our own health, relationships and fun alongside our daughter's. When we didn't, everything and everyone suffered."