The first weeks of a new year can be difficult for families of children with special needs, chronic health conditions or developmental disabilities. The post-holiday blues can strike families unexpectedly and should not be underestimated or ignored.
Difficult interactions with family, overspending on gifts or unexpected winter emergencies, a shortage of daylight or sleep, travel delays or misfortunes, and other challenges that mainstream parents also experience can trigger new year blues or winter doldrums. Families may have struggled with the loss of loved ones who are missed especially at family get-togethers during the holidays.
Past family arguments or childhood differences or may have been revisited as adults revert to childhood roles or rivalry. Sometimes all we can do is resolve to forgive and forget, or promise ourselves that we will find a way to avoid or resolve the conflict before our next encounter. Having a child with special needs does not give any of us a waiver from the most common problems in families or those that we believe are specifically our own family's relationship problems.
During winter we may be more aware of how busy our lives have become, how much time we spend away from home, or how little time we spend together. Trying to make every deadline and appointment, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the inconvenience of cleaning up spills, doing chores or spending time on enforced unscheduled breaks for emergencies or meltdowns.
Some of the additional stresses that may complicate the lives of families raising a child with a disability may be due to the added vulnerability of children to illness during the winter months; the impact of the holidays on free time, meals, exercise, drama in our extended families; a change in focus for school programs after the winter break; interruptions in respite care, parent support meetings or visiting with supportive friends, due to travel or weather; and the challenges our children struggle with when others can't deal with the flexibility or small accommodations required for us all to get along ok.
It's important to honor the feelings we have as we work our way through the middle of winter and into the new year. It may seem as though everyone else we know has wonderful stories and enjoyed every minute of the holidays, but most people have had moments of self doubt, loneliness, frustration and even despair.
Most people need extra support and encouragement in the new year and throughout the winter months. It can be as easy as starting up an exercise program, especially if it's possible to take regular walks with someone else, or enrolling in a yoga class or having someone over while watching a yoga DVD. Many moms, whether a child has special needs or not, find it difficult to take time for themselves to get together, but it is important for all of us to make time for ourselves.
Anyone who is struggling with sleeplessness, depression, exhaustion, or having difficulty getting through each day, deserves to find relief within a few weeks. This means that we need to take action within the first week, to make an appointment with a doctor for a check up, to see a counselor, or to call a good friend and explain that it's just too much for us to make those efforts ourselves.
Sometimes it seems as though Spring is around a very distant corner, and winter will hang on longer than we can stand. But winter has its own beauty, and can be a quiet time for thinking about where we want to direct our lives for the rest of the year. Taking better care of ourselves will help us enjoy and celebrate our daily accomplishments, and show our children how we keep moving forward to the next better day. Sometimes taking better care of ourselves means getting help from other people - and every one of us deserves a little help from time to time.
Browse at your local bookstore, public library or online retailer for books like P. Bear's New Year's Party: A Counting Book or It's Winter (Celebrate the Seasons).
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