Rest, Respite, and Relief
By Krisa Winn
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant
A question we often receive is, “Do I really have what it takes to educate my child with special needs?” Our answer is an encouraging, “Yes, you do!”
Krisa Winn helps HSLDA members homeschool their students with special needs.
No one loves your child more than you do. No one knows your child better than you. No one is as motivated to bring out the best in your child as you are. Think about it. You are the one who stays awake at night pouring your heart out to God on behalf of your child. You spend hours preparing lessons that you hope will motivate and educate. You are the one who endeavors to give each of your children the attention they need in order to succeed. You research all of those “initials” such as, PDD-NOS, AS, DD, ADD, NVLD, ADHD, and more. You are the one who coordinates transportation so that you arrive promptly at every doctor’s appointment and therapy session. And that’s after you take care of meals, laundry, finances, and housework!
So, my question to you is, “Are you doing what it takes to take care of you?” You can successfully homeschool your child with special needs, but not if you are depleted, stressed, and just “plain worn out.”
Do you recall the instructions that are given before every airline flight? “In the unlikely event of a cabin depressurization, oxygen masks will appear overhead. If you are seated next to a small child, secure your own mask first, and then assist the child.”
Why is it necessary to give this instruction? It’s necessary because the first instinct of every parent is to care for the needs of their children before their own needs are met. The FAA recognizes what some of us easily forget. If you can’t breathe, you are of no assistance to the very people who need you the most. Some of you have children who aren’t sleeping at night, who can’t walk without assistance, who have potty training difficulties, who have violent outbursts, and the list goes on. No matter how much you love your son or daughter, caring for daily needs such as these can take a physical, emotional, and mental toll. You are not only parenting; you are caregiving, and it’s hard. If you feel that you “can’t breathe,” do what it takes to “secure your own mask.” Practically speaking, you do that by taking respite.
Respite is the short, temporary break in your daily routine meant to recharge and replenish you. It can take many forms, such as having a sitter come in once a week to care for your child while you run errands, read a book, or sleep. Respite could include having your child spend a few nights away at a specialized camp or facility designed with respite in mind. Many churches have organized groups that provide meals on “therapy days” for their families who have children with special needs. This, too, is a form of respite. I want to encourage you to take advantage of the powerful gift of respite.
Recently, I heard a psychologist relate a story about seeing the family of one of her clients at a restaurant. The mom began chatting nervously about why “the client” was not with them that night. This mom was experiencing guilt because her child was not with the rest of the family during this particular outing. The psychologist attempted to assure her that it was all right.
Sometimes, she explained, it is completely appropriate to do things as a family without having to tend to the needs of your child who has special needs. In fact, research has shown that when caregivers of children with disabilities take regular periods of respite, family relationships are impacted positively. (Cowen and Reed 2002) So, don’t allow guilt to burden you unnecessarily. Take the opportunity to do activities outside the home, without your child. This can be good for you, good for your child, and good for other typically developing children you may have in the home.
I don’t know about you, but it is very easy for me to get into a mode where I feel that I need to “take care of everything” concerning my family and home. I hate to admit it, but if I’m honest with myself, much of my motivation is wrapped up in my need to control the way things are done. I erroneously think that no one can complete tasks as well as I can.
However, the “If you want to have things done right, do it yourself” mentality has not always served me well; especially when all of the many tasks I’m juggling come crashing down on me. Over and over, I find myself frustrated and disappointed when I am unable to handle it all.
In 1 Corinthians 12:20-21 TNIV, we read,
“As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”
This verse is generally presented to demonstrate the important role each part of the body of Christ plays, no matter how small. Today, I’m thinking of it with a slight twist. What if one part of the body tried to do everything, not because the smaller parts thought they were too small, but because that one part thought it could do it all? That would be ridiculous. An eye can’t smell, pick up a small object, or taste food. It was designed with a certain gift and role. In the same way, you cannot do everything either. We need each other. We need what others have to offer. To be true, their offerings to your life are indispensible. God has placed people in your life for specific reasons, and with specific gifts.
Yes, it may take some adjusting on everyone’s part at first. The laundry may not be folded exactly as you like it, the casserole may not be prepared just as you would do it, but I encourage you to relinquish control and allow others to carry some of your load.
As with all things in life, we can find the answers to our questions within the Word of God. Long before researchers in the twenty-first century began documenting the positive effects of rest and respite, God established the principle of rest. Consider the following verses:
Genesis 2:2—“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”
Exodus 34:21—“Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.”
Leviticus 25:4—“But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.”
Psalm 62:5—“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.”
Matthew 11:28–29—“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Having a child or children with special needs is a rewarding albeit, challenging journey. In the midst of all you are doing for your family, take time to relish the rewards of rest.
Article by Nicole Meyers Ph.D.
The National Family Caregiver’s Association