As a father to three incredible children on the autism spectrum, my journey has been filled with unique challenges and profound learning experiences. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is the critical importance of self-care. It’s not just a luxury; it’s an absolute necessity for both myself and, by extension, my family.
Embracing Self-Care as a Priority
Self-care for me goes beyond the occasional break; it’s about consistently recognizing and addressing my own physical, emotional, and mental health needs. The demanding nature of parenting, coupled with the specific needs of raising children with autism, means that without a solid self-care routine, burnout is not just a possibility; it’s likely. I’ve tangled with burnout too many times over the last 23 year.
My Approach to Self-Care
For the longest time, I thought self-care had to be this elaborate experience that was often unattainable for a million reasons. What I’ve learned along the way is that self-care isn’t something specific, it’s whatever works for me. Self-care is simply about putting back into yourself in whatever way works for you. It can be as simple as taking a 5 minute break during the day, or stealing 30 seconds to catch your breath after a stressful moment.
As parents, it can be hard to find, or make time for ourselves. We often feel guilty for even thinking about taking time for ourselves because we tend to perceive it as taking away from our kids. I spent over a decade feeling the same way but my therapist helped me to reframe my misguided view of self-care. He explained that sometimes you have to be selfish before you can be selfless. Those 11 words forever changed how I looked at self-care and making myself a priority.
People ask me about my self-care routine all the time. I frequently talk about my daily trips to the gym but there’s so much more to making myself a priority than just getting up at 5am and heading to my local Y.
I was diagnosed with ADHD in my early 40’s and one of the things I’ve learned from that rollercoaster of a journey is that I function better when I break things down into smaller parts, and that applies to self-care as well. In order for me to be as consistent as possible, I have broken self-care down into three main parts.
I’ve learned the hard way that neglecting my physical health affects my ability to be there for my kids. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, hydration, and adequate rest have become non-negotiable aspects of my daily routine. Prioritizing these things not only improved my physical health but also my self-esteem, and ability to focus.
- Going to the gym: Going to the gym is huge part of my everyday routine. My day begins at the gym and that helps me start off on the right foot and provides me with a healthy outlet. Working out also helps me manage my ADHD, depression, and anxiety naturally.
- Balanced Diet: Nutrition plays a huge role in everything as well. I expend a lot of energy when working out, and proper nutrition helps me to give my body what it needs to function optimally. I’m a big fan of smoothies and I make them every single day. Smoothies help me to cram in as much nutrition as I can in one glass. I also incorporate fruit, veggies, nuts, greek yogurt, and supplements to help make sure I’m getting what I need to not only recover from my workouts but make it through the day. My current favorite thing to supplement my smoothies with is Naked Nutrition’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Whey Protein powder. It’s absolutely delicious and packed with protein. This helps me to hit my protein goal for the day. I also use Naked Reds and Naked energy as well.
- Hydration: One of my biggest challenges is remembering to drink enough water. Hydration is important for pretty much every aspect of human life and most of us don’t drink enough water each day. I definitely fall into that category. I carry a large water bottle with me everywhere and I have another one at my desk and on my nightstand. I have an on my phone, iPad, and watch that reminds me throughout the day to drink water.
- Sleep: There is literally no way to overstate the importance of getting enough sleep. Not just enough sleep but quality sleep. When my kids were younger, I struggled with sleep because they struggled with sleep. It’s incredibly common for parents raising autistic kids to be chronically sleep deprived. I put a major focus on sleep and it’s gotten much better as my kids have aged. I still struggle at times but for the most part, my sleep has improved dramatically. On the nights that I struggle I use melatonin sleep patches from Klova. I stick one on my hand and I’m not only able to fall asleep but because the melatonin is slowly absorbed through my skin all night, I’m able to fall back asleep if I do wake up. This has been a game changer for me and my sleep has dramatically improved.
Mental and Emotional Balance
The mental and emotional rollercoaster of parenting can be overwhelming, and exhausting, especially when it comes to parenting kids with additional needs. I’m certainly no exception. I’ve been very open and honest about my struggles with my mental health over the years. Depression and anxiety have been lifelong companions.
Over the years, I’ve found immense value in therapy. Therapy has been a game changer for me, especially after my divorce. Medication also plays a huge role in my life and that’s okay. Medication helps me manage my ADHD symptoms, as well as my depression, and anxiety. Everything I do with The Autism Dad platform also plays a big role in maintaining my mental and emotional balance. Helping people helps me too.
As humans our mental/emotional health is equally as important as our physical health. We have to make it a priority and it must play a major role in our overall self-care routine. Everyone in our lives benefits from us making our mental/emotional health a priority, especially our kids.
Making Time for Myself
In the whirlwind of appointments, therapies, work, and daily responsibilities, carving out time for myself has been crucial. Time for myself is something that’s very important to me because after 23 years, I recognize the benefits, and how it helps me to be the person my kids need me to be. This was very difficult when my kids were younger but as they have gotten older and gained a greater level of independence, I have found it a bit easier.
Time for myself can look like many different things. Typically it looks like going to the gym, hiking, writing, or spending time with Kelly. I’m more than just a dad and making time for myself helps me to remember that. It’s so easy to lose a sense of self when you spend all your time taking care of your kids. I’ve learned to make this time a priority and not feel guilty about it.
The Power of Community
One aspect of self-care that I cannot emphasize enough is the importance of community support. Building a network of family, friends, and fellow parents who understand the journey has been a lifeline for me. Through my blog and podcast, I’ve worked to extend this sense of community to others, creating a space where experiences, advice, and support can be shared freely, without fear of judgement. You can join my free parent support group by clicking here.
Why Self-Care Matters in Parenting and Advocacy
I firmly believe that taking care of myself enhances my ability to care for my children and advocate on their behalf. A well-rested, healthy, and emotionally balanced parent is more capable of meeting the demands of parenting, navigating the complexities of the education and healthcare systems, and advocating for the needs of their children with autism. Putting all that aside, self-care is how we survive.
Self-care is a foundational element of effective parenting. It’s something I strive to practice daily, not just for my own benefit, but for the well-being of my kids and the people I love. To all the parents out there facing similar journeys, remember that taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do for your kids. You have to be selfish before you can be selfless.