Special needs parenting is an additional layer of stress

Currently I am having a huge problem managing stress right now and trying to balance everything.  I took advantage of our EAP services through my husbands work and received some literature on managing work place stress as one area to focus on. I opened up the first reference material to read this quote “Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one” by Hans Selye.  I read this and laughed, if only it was that easy. I would like to think anyone experiencing a considerable amount of stress would consider this as trite advice, especially someone who has a special needs child. If only it was that simple. I understand conceptually what this quote is trying to convey and actively try to defy the challenges that are before me every day but when someone is really stressed out, I think another quote is definitely needed, at least in my humble opinion.

Now a days I don’t think many people would argue that parenting and working full-time is challenging on the best of days, specifically when both parents work or they are in a single parent situation. When you add in a special needs child or children then you automatically enter a whole new ball game of stress – only analogy I can think of is playing for a little league team and then playing for the big leagues.

Most people that I know who have a moderate to severe special needs child have one parent who doesn’t work as a result of the demands of the situation or the lack of suitable child care options available to support the family needs. I tried to see if there were any stats on this topic but could only find one article from 2008, indicating that 24% of families with a special needs child report a parent had to stop working or reduce hours to care for a child. A lot has changed in the last 5 years and I am certain this percentage is much higher now a days, especially in the US as a result of the numerous reported challenges within the schooling system across the country. I know that right now we are seriously contemplating a huge change to address some major gaps that exist in our life.

One statistic that has been fairly consistent across multiple sources is the rate of divorce within special needs families, consistently I hear that 3 out of 4 parents end up getting divorced or separated.   Without question the additional stress associated with the special needs world highlights any fractures that existed previous and even creates new ones that wouldn’t normally have arisen due to the increased financial problems, problems at work, marital strife, etc.

According to my managing workplace stress book if you leave your ‘stress unchecked it can affect both your work and personal life to the point of burnout – really? Didn’t know that at all. Sorry for being cynical. Again research stats are hard to come by here but many people do acknowledge that caring for a special needs child causes more daily stress and long range health problems than parenting a child without disabilities. 

Since no one can avoid stress, at least within the world I live in, the question becomes how to best control my reactions/responses to stress-inducing situations (it wasn’t pretty yesterday on how I lost my cool with colleagues who didn’t come to a meeting prepared – again), and mitigate the level of overall stress within my life.

I would be interested to know from others – special needs or not – what do you do to reduce your stress level when you are right in the middle of a stressful period of time????

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