I’m a caregiver. Most often, caregiving blesses me more than it does anyone else. There are times, however, when I need time away from caregiving to recharge.
In my opinion, moms of children with special needs reach another level of giving. Whether the needs are caused by Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) — the disease three of my sons are living with — or something else, we meet their needs. Sometimes, however, we meet those needs at our own expense.
I know that when my kids need me extra, I give extra, but then I don’t work out, I don’t sleep, and my eating habits go down the drain. The more extra care I give, the more run-down I get till I eventually reach a point that looks like burnout.
Giving that much for too long can sneak up on me. Sometimes I’m exhausted before I have a chance for self-care. I know I shouldn’t admit it, but self-care takes extra energy, and sometimes I don’t have any left.
I’ve been caregiving for my three sons with DMD for 11 years, and I’m getting better at recognizing when I need a break. I’m thankful for that because my sons are getting older. As that happens, they need more help, which means more from Mom.
Recognizing when I need to take some time away for self-care before reaching my breaking point is vital to my perseverance as a caregiver and my mental health as a mom.
There are three things that I start to do when I’m getting worn out. I know I need to recharge my caregiver battery anytime I begin to do the following:
1. Try to control everything.
I’ve learned much about myself since I discovered my sons had DMD. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that I’m not in control. My faith life comes into play here. I genuinely believe I’m not in control. For years, I worked and worked and did everything in my power to slow disease progression and keep my boys walking. Then, no matter what I did, Rowen, my middle son with DMD, broke his leg and stopped walking. It was one of the hardest lessons to learn, but I finally realized I was not in control, but was exhausting myself trying to get there.
So the first sign that I need some self-care is when I start trying to control everything.
2. Keep score with my husband, Jason.
I keep track of how much I’m doing. I track how much I think my husband is doing. And when I don’t think they add up to fair, I start to be short, aka mean, to my husband, and that trickles to the kids.
I admit that it’s not fair to Jason, and to be honest, I think I started looking for a fight because I’m tired and crabby. It’s not good for me because l get in my head and overanalyze, and then I’m not present.
3. Tell the boys how much I’m doing for them.
That sounds awful and is hard to admit, and I want to make sure you know it’s when I’ve been helping and no one says thank you, and it feels like they order me around.
I want to help them; they need it and deserve it, regardless of whether they say thank you. But I’m human and want my sons to ask me nicely. The more burned out I get, the more it bothers me. I want to be more patient than that, and I always want to remember how incredibly hard it must be to depend on someone else for the things they need help with. When I can’t do that very well, I need to step back and catch my breath.
When I realize I’m acting as described above, it signals me to take a break. It could be as big as a weekend away or as little as a few minutes alone in my garden. And to keep myself from burning out too often, I try my best to exercise, schedule time alone, and eat right. Those are little forms of self-care necessary to keep up the day-to-day of caring for my family.
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