May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Environmental factors play a critical role in a child’s social-emotional development which is why we cannot simply work with children but we must also focus on the mental health of our teachers and parents. Day in and day out they are the ones shaping the minds and emotional states of young children. If they are not mentally and emotionally sound then the effects could be detrimental. Managing stress and making self-care a priority minimizes the potential for passing on the stress to the children who are watching, learning, and depending on these environments to grow up healthy and successful.

Since Mother’s Day is quickly approaching we thought it was a perfect time to hear the first-hand experiences of an Easterseals North Georgia Mother discussing how she practices self-care while being a mother of three. Meet Kelly.

“Being a mother is such a selfless, all-encompassing job and privilege. I think all women, whether they work out of the home or in the home, struggle with finding the right 25348569_10213806071859357_2620267842567015593_nbalance in terms of juggling kids, partners, and taking care of ourselves. As a mother to a child with special needs and two typically developing children, I have found that self-care is something I really need to stay on top of.  I learned the hard way that giving all of myself to my kids, my husband, and my job while completely neglecting my own mental health actually impacts my entire family. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of incorporating more self-care into my routine, although I do admit it is still a struggle. These are some of the things I have found that have really helped me.

First and foremost, therapy. Being a mother to a child with special needs can feel very isolating. I’ve run the gauntlet of emotions, including anger, resentment, and depression to anxiety. It’s so beneficial to be able to speak to a qualified professional regularly who can help navigate through these emotions. A good therapist can work on coping skills and stress management and discuss possible medications that might help alleviate some of these symptoms if they are ongoing.

I have found that jumping back into old hobbies and interests has really helped me as well. For several years, I lost sight of the things that brought me joy; things like reading novels, cooking and baking and exercising. I always felt like I had no time to engage in these activities anymore. Now, I carve out specific times of the day to be able to devote to these hobbies. I hold these times pretty sacred, and I try very hard not to let other things take priority over them. Obviously, there are instances in which I’m not able to keep my scheduled time for myself (like sick kids), and that is fine. I just remember to jump back into those hobbies as soon as I can. I have found those are excellent ways for me to recharge.

Friends, friends, friends. It’s so difficult to coordinate with friends to find times to reconnect. We are all juggling several things in our lives, and sometimes trying to schedule time with girlfriends or with a partner seems daunting. We all get out our calendars and compare dates. And honestly, sometimes we have to schedule things 3 or 4 months out into the future, but if that’s what it takes to carve out time it’s worth it. I manage to go out with girlfriends at least once every few months and with my husband at least once per month. There’s nothing better than just escaping reality and being silly with friends and completely forgetting about life’s responsibilities for a few hours. True, sometimes we get together and talk mostly about parenting struggles, but I find that we balance serious discussions with lighthearted ones. One thing that has meant so much to me is actually finding a group of other special needs moms to spend time with. There is an ease in being with people who understand the ups and downs of raising children with special needs.

Finally, one of the biggest aspects of self-care that I”m still working very hard on is self-compassion and forgiveness. I’ve really had to work on being kind to myself. They say we are our own worst critics, and I have found that to be very true. I feel like I could devote all of my free time to my child with special needs helping him learn to talk and achieve skills that he has not mastered. However, I have a job and two other children and a husband that deserve my time as well. I have beaten myself up (and still do sometimes) about not being able to spend more time being that perfect “therapeutic” mom who always has some way of incorporating my child’s therapy into every activity. I’ve started to forgive myself and realize that raising him in a home full of love is what is most important. I focus much more now on gratitude and being thankful for what I have, either by journaling about this every day or through meditation. I make it a point every night to recognize all of the wonderful things I accomplished that day.

When all else fails and I’m really having a hard time or feeling guilty about the need to take time for myself, I always remember that phrase “If mama isn’t happy, nobody’s happy”. It brings a smile to my face and helps reaffirm the importance of taking care of myself.”

By: Kelly Bowman Griffith, Easterseals North Georgia Parent

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