I’ll admit it, taking a break was considered a mainstream concept to me. I was (and still am) one of those parents who doesn’t think they need a “break” from the kids. I love my kids and enjoy being with them. Why would I need to send them away so I could have a “break”? Also, being a homeschooler means the kids are at times off doing their own thing or playing with one other. It isn’t a 24/7 full on thing like lots of people think.
However, three of my children have autism. That is unfortunately quite often, a 24/7 full on thing! I have come to realise that having a break does not necessarily mean physical time away from the kids. This is what most people consider having a break to be. The opportunity to send their kids off to school for 6 hours, or the ability to have a night without the kids.
Such a view of having a break has been detrimental to me. Even when I went along with others ideas of what having a break entailed, I didn’t benefit from it. Spending a couple of hours away from the kids did nothing at all for me.
This is why!
Mental Breaks are More Important than Physical Distance!
Going out for the night is not going to help if your mind is the one needing the break. Having children on the autism spectrum is pretty intense. There are times where physical distance does nothing because at the end of the day, these kids still have autism. You still have to deal with and face these problems on a daily basis.
A mental break is the sort of break where you can sit down and read a book, or engage in a regular preferred activity without having to stress about why it is SO QUIET! If you go out, a mental break means you aren’t worried about what is waiting for you when you get home! A mental break means you can go to the toilet, have a shower, eat, or otherwise meet your own needs without needing to hurry, or be interrupted.
Without being able to get such mental breaks consistently and frequently throughout the day, parents are not going to cope.
Five Ways to Get Mental Breaks
- Set the other kids to supervise the child who is currently on a 3 day sensory mess bender.
Every little bit helps. Having older or more responsible kids supervise while you get your needs met gives your mind a short break from constant viligiance. The others can run around after the sensory messer for a change!
- Enforce regular and consistent bedtimes.
If autism is in the picture, the child is going to have trouble with self regulation. This means they won’t take themselves off to sleep when tired. Having consistent bedtimes establishes a routine (I know, I know! Not a fan of routine either). Having this means you can get a mental break in the evenings before you have to take your tired self off to bed.
- Take up daily meditation.
Yeah do this. Even if you aren’t the meditating type! There is an app called Headspace which provides guided meditation. You can start by only doing it for 3-5 minutes. Learning these skills is important to keep your zen throughout a day of flour explosions, walls dripping with egg, curtains smeared with peanutbutter and screaming kids.
- Bring out the screens.
Whether it is a new movie on TV or a new game app to play with, do it! Children with autism in particular are likely to stay engaged with a screen than they are with another activity. So, whip out the screens, collapse on the couch with them and listen to music or read a book for as long as you can get!
- Perspective perspectide!
Be mindful of your perspective. Lots of people engage in perspectide where their negative perspectives destroy any chance of sanity. A large part in a healthy perspective includes acceptance of your role as parent, and of your kids’s current abilities & needs. Be adult, and realistic. They may need your attention now, but eventually the rollercoaster will come back down and you can grab a breather before the next wild ride!
Don’t Forget Emotional Breaks Too!
Parenting can be utterly exhausting at times. Throw special needs parenting in the mix, and parenting is utterly exhausting a lot of the time! Some days coffee and embracing one’s inner zombie is the only way to reach the end of the day. Forget the light at the end of the tunnel bullshit, the tunnels of special needs parents are often so long the light at the end is barely a pinprick!
Emotional breaks consist of being able to scream, cry, laugh and sometimes all three at once. Having someone to whinge to, or cry on helps. Finding the right person to do that with can be hard at times because so many people have the tendency to want to “fix” things. Especially more so if they see you having a hard time so frequently, and have never been in similar shoes before. Can’t fix autism, (or other special needs) just gotta learn how to live with it!
Sometimes a day in bed, or a block of chocolate and a book provides emotional comfort.
Taking a Break – Just DO IT!
See, taking a break is not always about time away from the kids. It is more about time for YOURSELF, mentally, emotionally, physically – and it is totally doable to do this at home, on a daily basis. You probably won’t swing week-long stretches, however 10 minutes here and there on a regular and frequent daily basis will make a big difference to your life.