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 | By Dr. Cathleen McGreal

We Have a Special Needs Child and I Stay Home to Take Care of Him

Q. We have a special needs child and I stay home to take care of him. I love him dearly and wouldn’t trade him for anything, but I am getting burned out. I feel as if I have no respite and no end in sight. Sometimes motherhood seems overwhelming. What can I do to keep going day after day?

A. When my brother, Tim, was seriously injured, my mom’s life changed dramatically. Sometimes the parenting journey isn’t what we anticipate.

It is OK to grieve over your lost dreams.

When you got married, you probably imagined what the future would hold. It is not likely that you expected the challenges of caring for a child with special needs. Allow yourself time to grieve over the loss of those dreams. Thesatisfactions and joys of parenting will still be yours to savor, but your journey will be different than expected.

Take care of yourself, too.

Parenting can be physically and emotionally draining. When a child needs special care, then the work is intensified – it is natural that you are feeling burned out. What can you do to improve your sleep patterns? Sleep deprivation makes everyday tasks more difficult. Plan simple but healthy meals and buy nutritious snacks. Schedule ways to nurture yourself. Find an exercise DVD that you enjoy and carve out time to get moving! Or buy a foot soaker and fragrant salts, put on your favorite songs and enjoy. Talk to your husband about times when he can take over so that you can visit friends. Plan special time with him, too!

Stay connected!

The National Family Caregivers Association ( initiated an online program to connect care-givers. NFCA provides resources and suggestions. One idea, for example, is “When people offer to help, accept the offer and suggest specific things that they can do.” Is a neighbor willing to come over twice a week so that you can walk around the neighborhood for 15 minutes? Perhaps a friend can find useful community resources? Make a list of the tasks that are challenging and brainstorm how others might help. Share your ideas with a member of your parish staff and see if there is a way that your faith community can be supportive, too. Search for a support group so that you can share your experiences with other parents.

Pray and open yourself to God’s love, especially when you feel overwhelmed. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair” 2 Cor 4:8

Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a psychology professor and certified spiritual director.