Just Breathe (by Robert Naseef, Ph.D.)

I am frequently requested to talk to parent groups about coping with stress. Life with a child with special needs presents constant pressure and stress to mind and body. Inevitably, you get wrapped up doing all you can for your child. There is little time and energy for personal, marital, and family activities.

Obviously parents need to refresh and recharge. But how does a parent get a break? Mothers especially feel overwhelmed and even guilty that they are not doing enough. If you do convince yourself that you deserve a break, there may be resistance. Who else can take care of your child?

As Dr. Cindy Ariel has written, “Make no doubt about it--the absolute ideal person to spend time with your child is you. You are the best, most competent, most loving person available to care for your child. But this is no reason to never take a break.” As my life-partner, she has inspired much of my personal and professional growth and in this example helped me to understand the passions of mothers.

Recently I was speaking to parents at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in the Pediatric Stroke Program. A father spoke up and told the group that he was no good to his wife and child if he didn’t take care of himself. I asked him how he came to this.

He shared that he viewed this like the safety precautions we get at the beginning of an airline flight. If the cabin loses pressure during flight, you must put on an oxygen mask or risk losing consciousness. That is why airlines tell you to put on your own mask before helping someone else, such as your child, with their mask--if you can’t breathe and pass out, you won’t not be able to help anybody.

Upon hearing this, everyone in the room breathed a sigh of relief. This thoughtful father of a medically fragile child had given everyone in the room permission to take a break.