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How to Manage Your Mental Health While Parenting a Kid With Disabilities

Written by Anne Godenham, Prospera


Anne is a writer and editor with a passion for mental health awareness and accessibility



Prioritizing ourselves is a problem for all moms – there’s a reason mom burnout is such a prevalent issue – but when you have one or more kids with disabilities, it’s far too easy to give everything you have to them. 


The problem is: if you don’t manage your mental health, you not only live with more suffering but you also risk running on empty until your body forces you to stop. At which point you’ll literally have nothing left to give. 


This is especially true of those moms who are already pushing through mental health issues, such as those of us recovering from a traumatic birth or experiencing symptoms of postpartum anxiety. The habit we develop of shoving our own needs and feelings under the rug to focus on our kids can lead to serious consequences for us and our families.


This is exactly why it’s so important to care for yourself as best you can, even while the majority of your time and energy is spent caring for others. Two things are true: your kids need you, and they also need you to be as healthy and whole as possible, for as long as possible. That means managing your mental health, starting now.


But how do you do that, when every waking moment feels like it needs to be dedicated to your kids? Here are some concrete tips for making space for yourself, even in a seemingly spaceless life.


Take whatever help you can get


For some people, help is truly out of reach, but for many of us, the issue is more likely to be our pride or fear of imposing or being seen as a burden. If you're co-parenting with a partner or an ex, they should be putting in at least as much effort as you do, even if they’re only capable of actually doing a smaller portion of the work (say, if they have a demanding job outside the home). It can feel intimidating to ask a partner to step up, but asserting your needs is a skill that’s worth learning. 



As for family members, try to remember that the people who love you want to help, and even though your kid might be a bit more of a challenge for your sister to babysit, for example, she’s coming in fresh and will be able to handle the challenge – you, on the other hand, are likely burned out and need a nap, a walk, or just an hour of quiet. 


Think outside the family-member box, too; if your neighbor, coworker, or friend has offered to watch the kids or bring dinner over so you won’t have to cook, say yes! The proverbial village gets smaller and smaller as our world gets more demanding, so take what you can get.


And if you’re someone with truly no helping hands around you, try to make friends with other moms with kids your kids’ ages. If nothing else, playdates can be a break from parenting alone and offer a chance to connect. Which brings me to…


Talk about it


Suffering thrives in darkness, and mental health issues love silence. Nothing to amplify those intrusive thoughts like the absence of any outside perspective and support!


As scary as it can be to share your innermost feelings and daily struggles with another person – what if they don’t listen to you, misunderstand your emotional experience, or judge your kid? – it’s absolutely crucial to find safe relationships where you can express yourself. Whether it’s with a therapist, your partner, a friend, or even an internet support group, talking about what you’re going through will help you process your emotions and strategize techniques for improving your mental health.


It’s impossible to overstate the relief a supportive ear can provide to someone who’s struggling. I bet you do it all the time for your kids and friends; why not let someone else do the same for you?


How to support friends raising disabled kids


As Melinda Martin, founder of Momme – a platform for parents raising disabled kids – told Superkin, sometimes asking for help and explaining your situation can feel like more work than just getting on with it on your own. But keeping quiet weighed heavier and heavier on her soul, until a diagnosis set her free to discuss what she was going through openly.


Not everyone will come to a crossroads like Martin did, which is why it’s so important for us all to check in on the parents in our lives, especially those raising children with disabilities. Don’t take “everything’s fine,” or “we’re doing okay” for a final answer; there’s likely more to the story than that. Of course, respect their privacy if they really don’t want to talk, but make sure you’re at least making it clear that the question is genuine.



Beyond checking in, here are three concrete ways you can support a friend with a disabled child:


  1. Offer to babysit. This may be a tall order, especially if their kid needs specialized care, but if you can gift your friend some alone time to take care of herself, you should. If the child does need care you can’t provide on your own, offer to help out as an extra pair of hands or even just keep her company during a challenging part of the day.

  2. Show up with food, ideally enough for leftovers. And don’t stay. Not that your friend wouldn’t love to see you, I’m sure, but the purpose of this gift is to take care of a big-deal task for a parent, not to add hosting to their list. Make sure whatever you cook meets the allergy/nutritional requirements of the whole family, then drop it off with a hug or a wave and get out of there.

  3. Gift a domestic task, either by doing it yourself (if they’d be comfortable with that) or by hiring someone. Cleaning, organizing, and other household logistics can take up a massive amount of brain space and add a ton of stress to a parent’s day, and removing one of these tasks from the to-do list can work wonders for their mental health.


Maternal mental health is enormously important for entire families – not just moms – but it can be so challenging to take care of yourself, especially when your kids have special needs. If you’re looking for a fast track to getting started with postpartum therapy, Prospera is a great place to start. With no waitlist and a flexible schedule for appointments, Prospera coaches help you build the skills you need to manage your mental health while supporting your family.


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Thank you to Anne and Prospera for sharing these tips with our community! Consider gifting Dear Mama: Stories of an Extra Lucky Life to support a disability caregiver in your life. You can also help to make change at the corporate level by sharing our speaking engagement services with your DE&I lead.






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