The last few days I have been overwhelmed by my ‘List’.
You know the one.
That list of things that loom: getting the kids camp packing done, scheduling the cat’s appointment with the veterinarian, contacting my son’s teacher for next year or our daughter’s track coach, preparing next month’s child care, organizing for next week’s graduation open house, and making sure there is toilet paper in the house.
Oh, and making sure I get at least 6 hours of sleep, work a full week, and am emotionally and physically available to support my children and my spouse. (If I left anything out, it only means those things have fallen off my list, and I will hopefully rediscover them again later.)
As a parent, the ‘List’ is tremendous. No doubt. As a special needs parent, however, the ‘List’ feels a little more complicated.
This list also includes doctor appointments, therapy appointments, additional and constant contact with special educators, school administrators, county social workers, health insurance representatives, after-school service providers, in-home personal care providers, and financial agents of all sorts.
And…don’t forget planning for lifetime care and support for your child if it doesn’t look as if they will be able to care for themselves as independent adults. ‘Whew’ is an understatement!
The ‘List’, for me, results in an additional list of never-ending ‘shoulds’. For example, I should write an email back to the teacher. I should refill that prescription. I should look into that particular therapy that we might want to try in the future.
And the shoulds don’t come by themselves, either! They come with a whole family! They are joined by have to, must, and need to. I have to wash the dishes. I must call my mother. I need to get some sleep! It’s a cacophony of tiny voices in my head telling me I am not good enough or smart enough or able to handle it all like (I imagine) others are able to.
The results are exhausting. Not only am I not completing the things on my list, but I am feeling drained and shamed by my self-talk. I mean, really, how much energy do I have to give to a should or a have to? Isn’t there a better way to get myself motived than by shaming myself?
Yes, there is!
My top 5 tactics for moving from drain and shame into action:
- Notice my self-talk: First I start by noticing how often I use the depleting language of should, have to, must, or need to? How do I feel that shaming and depleting language in my body? How do my shoulders feel, or my head? How much energy do I have to give to the task on my list when it feels obligatory? Noticing the language of self-talk is a skill, but once you master it you can make a choice on how you want to proceed.
2. Investigate: Now that I have identified when I use depleting language like should or have to, I ask myself a couple of questions around choice. For example, do I have to call the doctor today, really? Why should I change the water filter? Who says that, and does that mean it’s true? What does it mean if I don’t? What might the consequences be if I choose something else?
3. Want to, Get to: Now that I have asked those questions, I shift my self-talk to include language of empowerment and reach a point of choice. Based on my ‘List’, what do I want to do? What do I get to do? For example, my dishes obviously need to be done at some point – assuming I wish to reuse them, they are dirty, and washing is the way to get them ready for reuse. How can I change my self-talk to help me get them done?:
Why do I want them done? Does it satisfy a desire to have a clean kitchen or provide clean pans so I can make that cake I really want to make.
Am I the only one who can do them? Who else can do them? Do I prefer to do them than have anyone else do them? Why?
When can they be done? Would I prefer to wash them now or later? What is the benefit of washing them now vs. washing them later? Maybe I want them cleaned up before company comes over, or before the kids get home from school, making the task a choice rather than have to.
By doing my dishes I get to feel accomplished in completing a task and crossing it off my list. I also get to reuse dishes rather than having to buy new ones, which is good for my pocketbook.
Do you see the difference? The reframe from have to to get to is empowering. It is a matter of choice, and can really help one move from inaction to action, powerlessness to powerful.
4. Prioritize: Once I have figured out my get to/want to opportunities, I prioritize! There can be a lot of things on our lists that just aren’t priorities right now! I can always bring those items back when they become priorities, but if there isn’t supportive energy around completing a task, I want to investigate to find out why.
5. Celebrate: Once I have completed even the smallest want to or get to, I celebrate! Celebration keeps up the momentum and propels me on to the next task or project. It also helps to fend off the drain and shame when my list gets long.
Make no mistake, these are skills to be developed and muscles to be trained. It may look small on the surface, but this is tough inner work that can be so worth the effort when you shift out of shame and drain and into action and forward moving energy. And when I build energy doing small things, it helps prepare me for the bigger stuff.
And mommas, you know the big stuff is comin’!
‘Til next time!
Audrey Mouser Elegbede, Ph.D. is an empowerment coach, public speaker, diversity and inclusion consultant, and master reiki practitioner. She has her doctorate in cultural anthropology from Brown University, her coach training through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), an International Coaching Federation (ICF) Accredited program, and she is certified in both the Usui and Holy Fire Schools of reiki.
Audrey began her work in disability advocacy, particularly autism, over 15 years ago when her eldest son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. She has served on state and local boards supporting the autism community, lead student advocacy organizations, facilitated parent and community education programs, served as a neurodiversity advocate, and provided training to medical, education, and service professionals working with individuals with disabilities.
Parents of children with special needs experience unique challenges that parents of typically developing children do not. The burnout is real. The emotional tool is real.
Audrey is passionate about working with autism-moms to become empowered parents and advocates for their children and families. She helps parents to be driven by confidence and love rather than fear and anxiety. She supports them as they create more engagement, fulfillment and forward movement in their personal and professional lives. And she helps autism-moms reframe self-care to ensure strength and connection with themselves and others.