When I started going to the Dads’ Talk support group that I’ve been infrequently attending (infrequent if only due to my own winter schedule), the first thing that they ask new members to talk about is their situation – what’s the situation at home that brought them to the group, what is their home life like… and what do you do for a release?
I think a lot of us, as parents of special needs children, don’t do enough to make sure that we have that ‘me time’ that we need so desperately. (‘We time’ will be for another post, and yes, that suffers too.) We’re so busy managing the minutiae of our children’s lives and the myriad forms that have to be handled that we entirely neglect to deal with those things that, frankly, keep us sane.
Obviously, all of us had interests and personal activities before we ended up with children who needed so much attention… and yet, for some reason, that often gets chuckled out the window first. Okay, yes, that’s a normal part of being a parent – I’m aware of this – but the fact is that ‘normal’ parents also manage to find time for their interests around their children… there’s no reason that parents of special needs children can’t likewise make the time. And that’s what’s critical, making that time.
The wife has her singing – she’s a mezzo-soprano and sings in an ensemble at our synagogue, as well as acting in the Purim spiel. (And in my entirely unbiased opinion, she’s fabulous.) In the past, she’s also had parts in various theatrical groups around town, something that I’ve encouraged her to take up again, even if it does cut into our ‘we time’ or leaves me with watching the children.
I have curling. (Which should be obvious from a) how often I talk about it and b) how my little avatar next to my comments shows a picture of me from a few years ago doing just that.) I find it very therapeutic to get out on the ice for a few hours and play a sport that I’m reasonably good at, if not for the fact that for those two hours, I’m not doing anything other than worrying about getting a 42 pound stone into a circle 150 feet away.
But a common refrain that I do hear, when I’m at the support group, is that the idea of having a release is a revelation, coupled sometimes with shock that some of us have hobbies that take up so much time. This is more logistics than anything else – a lot of us simply either swap with our partners, or have hobbies that are conducive to “after-hours” – my curling and the wife’s choir rehearsals, for instance, are largely after the kids are asleep. She has the occasional rehearsal during the day on weekends, and I have the occasional tournament that chomps out part of my week. I think, though, what holds back a lot of parents from stumbling into this on their own is a fear that they’re being unfair – to their children or their partner – by taking ‘me time’ at all, and stepping away from the responsibility for a little while. I think that in the long run, not taking regular breaks is actually more unfair, since it leaves you in a state where you’re not much good for anyone.
The key thing is making sure that there is that mental break, a few hours now and again to step away from being under so much constant stress, and making sure that we’re watching out for our partners’ sanity when they’re not being so cognizant of it.