One of the biggest challenges I face as a special needs parent is finding time for myself. It’s not easy, in between writing, parenting, medical appointments, after school activities, housework, therapies, family commitments and everything else life throws at you.
To be completely honest, the biggest challenge for me is to give myself permission to take time out for myself. More often than not, when opportunity does present itself, I’ll find something else to do instead of taking the rare chance to just be.
Are you the same?
As I mentioned in yesterday’s Challenge of the Week Facebook Live post (check it out below if you missed it), I believe this is a challenge for most parents and carers.
We are so busy looking after our families and keeping all those balls in the air that we tend to put ourselves last. There’s just no time, energy or inclination to fight for our own needs once we’ve dealt with everyone else’s.
However, it’s vital we do make time for ourselves as carers because, the sad fact is, no-one else is going to prioritise us. And if we don’t make the time to help ourselves, we won’t be able to help our family.
It’s as simple as that.
If you are struggling to make time for yourself as a carer, these suggestions may help you make a start.
How to Make Time For Yourself as a Carer
Commit to yourself
If you want to make time for yourself, you first need to make a commitment to you. It’s vital you make the conscious decision to prioritise YOU and give yourself permission to put yourself first.
After a long time of putting your needs last, this can be an unbelievably hard step. But it’s a vital one to ensure you follow through and actually make time for yourself.
Making a commitment to yourself might include scheduling regular time for you. I go for a 5km walk twice a week, without guilt, so I can get in some exercise and have some time to think outside the confines of my home.
Your commitment may look different. It might be planning a regular coffee catch up with a friend. It might be taking up a craft class or another hobby. It could be a date with your bed and a good book for 30 mins each day.
It doesn’t matter what your commitment looks like. All that matters is that you make one and that you honour your commitment to yourself.
Look at time differently
We will never have the time we feel we need for ourselves. Unfortunately life just isn’t very fair like that. However, we can learn to appreciate the pockets of time we get, rather than dwelling on the time we don’t have.
It all starts with how we look at time. Instead of lamenting how little we have, we should be appreciating the time we do have.
One way to do this is to diarise what you do each day for a week. This might seem a bit of a chore but have a go anyway. Account for everything you do, hour by hour. This exercise will do one of two things.
One, it will reveal the loose schedule or routine that you currently follow. Seeing your activities on paper may give you the chance to look at what you are doing, how you are doing them and find better and more efficient ways to do them.
Two, by identifying efficiencies, you’ll be able to see where you can schedule time in for yourself so you can honour your commitment to find time for you. 10 minutes here and there may not seem like much, but if you can find 4 or 5 opportunities in the day for a quick break, there’s nearly an hour to yourself just there.
Remember, 1o minutes is long enough for a cuppa, to read a chapter of a book, check out the juicy bits of a gossip magazine, close your eyes for meditation or spend some time with your pet. It might not be the freedom you sometimes yearn for, but it’s still a regular opportunity to stop and breathe for a moment.
Change your attitude
It sounds so cliched but you can help yourself by changing your attitude to you and your situation. Being more positive will help you recognise and welcome those rare pockets of time for yourself.
Positivity can be hard to find as a carer. It can seem like you give everyone else so much yet you receive so little in return. Understandably, finding the positives in life can be difficult, particularly when it feels like no-one is supporting you or appreciating you fully for your efforts.
I do a few things in order to practice positivity. Acknowledging my difficulties and the reality of my situation helps me accept my life as it is, free of the weight of the guilt of feeling this way.
Identifying what I know helps me concentrate on the facts of my situation and allows me to set aside all the unknowns that tend to feed into my anxieties and worries as a carer.
Clearing my mind of guilt, concentrating on what I know and allowing myself to put aside all the things I don’t know puts me in the mindset where I can start identifying the positives in my life, however small.
A daily social media update, writing in a gratitude journal or a quick chat with a loved one can also help you identify the positives in each day, however small or seemingly insignificant.
Being positive will help you become more opportunistic, so you can take advantage of what time you have and be ready to run with it. So it’s a vital element on your path to making time for yourself.
Have a plan for “YOU” time
It’s important that you have a plan for when you do get time for yourself. If you are anything like me, you’ll tend to squander any time you do get if you have not already worked out how you are going to spend it.
I often spend pockets of free time doing chores and things around the house instead of appreciating those moments and making time for me. I’m in the habit of keeping busy and it’s easier for me to keep on tidying or cleaning and addressing things that I see rather than taking a breath and concentrating on my needs.
If you know how you intend to spend your free time (watching Netflix, reading a book, listening to music, having a cuppa, etc.) you will be less likely to ignore your needs and waste your precious time doing non-you things. Like cleaning, tidying or sorting stuff out.
Identify the pockets of time you have (which you can do by diarising your week) and work out what you can do in those pockets of time to honour your commitment to yourself. Have a list of possible activities ready so you can take advantage of any possibility for time for yourself.
Be positive, be proactive and be kind to yourself by having a plan!
Reclaim yourself as an individual
We spend so much time thinking of ourselves as someone’s mum, dad, carer, etc., that we can forget what we were before that time. It can be easy to lose our identities as individuals in our own right.
Before I was a mum and a carer, I was a tennis player, a cross-stitcher, a keen walker and a dedicated worker. When was the last time you thought of yourself as a writer, an artist, a musician, a sportsperson or something other than a parent or carer?
Remembering who you used to be, and how that made you feel, can help you make time for yourself now.
You may be able to reclaim yourself by taking up a previous hobby or interest. It can also be achieved by rekindling old friendships, revisiting old haunts or embracing interests that you’ve always yearned to try.
Don’t lose your sense of self in your caring role. Reclaiming yourself and who you used to be can be a powerful way to find time for you and to honour your commitment to yourself.
What are you going to do to make time for yourself?