After 13 years of working exclusively with mothers who have children with special needs, one day about 2 years ago I had a vision. Most mothers adore their children and will make whatever sacrifices are necessary to ensure that their child’s needs and wants are met, but mothers who have children with special needs are different. They are probably the most selfless people that I have ever met. Two years ago, I realized that their “selflessness” could become problematic in more ways than one.
I started to notice a pattern. It is not that I had been oblivious, but my focus was on the child, so to some degree I ignored what I was seeing. That is, until I could no longer turn the “blind eye”.
What I saw was burn out, depression and at times anxiety to the point of inaction. I witnessed failed marriages, distant relationships, and sibling neglect. I also identified unrealized isolation and underutilized social networks. I watched all this dis-ease culminate into ignored health problems and addictive behaviors. All, the results of overwhelm and selflessness frequently exhibited by the mothers of children with special needs.
If you have flown on an airplane more than once you can probably recite from memory the flight attendant’s safety script which is reviewed prior to take off. What has always resonated with me when the attendant gets to the part about losing cabin pressure, it is emphasized that parents should ALWAYS put their masks on first before attempting to assist their children with their protective equipment. In that moment, two years ago, as I watched these mothers symbolically losing “cabin pressure” due to the overwhelming stress of caring for a child with special needs, I understood that the solution was that they needed to put on their mask first.
But the problem is that these women are selfless and often see selfcare as being selfish. It was even said to me on more than one occasion that they would address their issues once their child was stable. As the doctor, I knew that the stability they sought was far off in the distance. Too far, in fact, and my concern was increasing that these women were not going to make it.
This led me to ask one simple question of the mothers that sat before me. “If you go down, what will happen to your child?” Because the reality was, that at this pace, inevitably, this mother was going to go down. Much like on the airplane, if there is any chance for survival and growth for the family, Mom must first nurture herself.
So how do you fight the inevitable? By focusing on four core concepts that will bring the situation into clear focus.
“True self-care is not bath salts and chocolate cake, it’s making the choice to build a life you don’t need to escape from.”
– Brianna West
Joni Johnson, MD is a Pediatrician and certified Health and Wellness Coach with over 12 years of clinical experience exclusively supporting individuals with ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, mood disorders and behavior problems. In addition to being a physician, Dr. Joni is also a retired Army Colonel, disabled veteran, author, public speaker, entrepreneur and an individual with Dyslexia and a Visual Convergence Insufficiency. As the founder of UnCharted Territory LLC, Dr. Joni serves as a Health Consultant and Empowerment Strategist working with individuals seeking to discover underlying causes for difficulties in home, work, school, and social environments. She provides a roadmap for navigating support services and overcoming obstacles related to treatment plan adherence. Additionally, Dr. Joni’s coaching practice focuses on three areas of health and wellness which include Empowerment, Balance, and Inclusion.
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