Parents: Make Time for Yourselves
By Robin Yamakawa
Personal time is important for parents of children with juvenile arthritis.
As parents we have a lot of daily responsibilities – take the kids to school, pay bills, make lunches. It’s a large burden for any parent to carry on any day. Then, if you add the extra responsibility of a child with arthritis life can easily become out of balance and hard to manage. That’s why it’s important for parents of children with arthritis to learn how to prioritize their own personal time.
Why Personal Time Matters
Personal time is the one thing that many parents fail to list when detailing their priorities for a day or week. Without personal time, it’s easy to wear yourself too thin when you have a child with a chronic disease, explains Renee Thomas, a support and educational rights volunteer facilitator for the Arthritis Foundation’s Northeastern Ohio office.
“I think it is a natural instinct,” she says. “Most parents sacrifice for their child and try and do without to make their child’s life better. Certainly, with a child with a disability you work harder to try and make everything better for them.”
Thomas knows. Her daughter Brooke, 23, was diagnosed with polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis at age 7. She says sacrificing important time for yourself can be detrimental to both you and your child. It can overwhelm you, stress you out and take a toll on your ability to care for your child as you would like.
But there is hope. You can find the right balance and make some time for yourself without the guilt. Thomas offers these tips:
Tips for Personal Time
Give yourself permission.
It's a natural inclination to put your child's needs above your own. But give yourself permission to put yourself first occasionally. “Sometimes [your child] might not be happy to go and sit with a different person for the day. Our job isn’t always to make our child happy. Your child doesn’t have to be happy all the time. That’s OK,” says Thomas.
Make a plan for “me-time” and slot it into your regular schedule. If not, the details of day-to-day activities or matters that seem urgent can take over. “I think you really have to structure things,” Thomas says. “This is my time, this is mom and dad time … let your kids see that these times are important.”
Form friendships, trade favors.
Consider leaving your kids for a few hours or for a sleepover with trusted friends with their own kids. Next time offer to return the favor for them, too. This is a great way to get quality self-time for more than just a few moments. Parents can initiate these types of friendships with people from church, school or in their neighborhood. Many people are willing to help, you just have to ask.
Check out babysitting clubs; there may be some in your area that you can foster relationships with and trust to care for your child. Also, babysitting costs can add up. Don’t neglect giving yourself time because there's no money. Budget money ahead of time and make a habit of it.
Sign them up for activities.
Getting your kids involved in developing their own activities outside of school is also a great idea. Not only is this good for them socially, it can afford you an hour or two of time to yourself to take care of your needs. You may be surprised at a new passion or talent that your child develops.
Send them packing.
“Send your kids with arthritis to camp and your other child to a different camp. That way everyone gets a break. Siblings get a break and your child with arthritis gets a break from having someone worry about them,” says Thomas. These special planned activities can be something everyone looks forward to each year and can serve as “mini vacations” for parents. Most camps are required to make accommodations for children’s disabilities, so non-arthritis camps are an option too.
Use Your Time Wisely.
Find something that fulfills your personal and emotional needs, other than parenting. That can be anything from taking regular walks with a neighbor to signing up for painting classes at the local arts center to practicing mediation. Also, if you're in a relationship, spend some time with your partner. Devoting time to fostering your relationship can provide you with a much-needed shoulder to lean on when things get stressful.
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