‘Self-care’: Two words that as SEND parents, we often hear as part of well-meaning but ultimately hollow snippets of advice.

“Oh, you NEED to practice self-care, you need to make sure you take time for yourself…” accompanied by a knowing wink, a nudge and a nod, and how on earth do we respond to comments such as this (usually given by people who are NOT SEND parents) that we know are given in the best intent but ultimately fall flat and feel almost patronising in a way? It’s hard to not see it as ‘performative’, to appear supportive to outsiders without actually providing real support – virtue signalling is the term often used. That’s not to say that everyone offering redundant ‘advice’ is virtue signalling but it can feel that way sometimes.

Are we being overly sensitive? Are we reading into it too much? We think not, because most often, these snippets of ‘advice’ lack one crucial element of consideration – HOW can we practice self-care as SEND parents? It’s all fair and well to advise us to do so, as if we didn’t already know that we need to practice self-care (the eyebags and stone cold coffee speak volumes), but at least have the good grace to offer some actual practical suggestions, please! Can you sense the eye-roll embedded in these words, reader? We hope our exasperation is tangible.

So, yes, we do know that it is indeed true that self-care is important, in fact integral, to our health and wellbeing, even more-so as parents of children with SEND as it’s undeniable that we statistically face more stress than parents of neurotypical children – not that neurotypical children don’t ever struggle – and are often neurodivergent ourselves meaning that our capacity to cope with stressful and overstimulating elements of life are somewhat impacted. We DO need an outlet.

Whether that outlet is PC gaming, intently reading a good book, or taking an hour to wander around the supermarket browsing, however you choose to practice self-care is completely valid. Take those opportunities where you can, however you can.

What is defined as ‘self-care’ and why is it so important?

‘Self-care’ is what it says on the tin; taking care of yourself. Every single person needs to take time to practice self care, whether SEND parents or not, because this time is so integral to our mental health, physical well-being, our emotional state, and so many more elements of our overall well-being. This is backed by science and of course, our own anecdotal life experiences; who doesn’t feel immensely better after a break?

How can parent carers take part in self-care?

It’s fair to say that it’s human nature to set dizzyingly high standards for ourselves, and to unfairly berate ourselves when things fall apart from time to time. As parent carers, we have so many proverbial ‘balls to juggle’ and ‘plates to spin’ than some other families, and it’s ok to not take it all on with a stoic face. Here’s a video by our founder Chrissa discussing self care for parents during the summer holidays – although this could also be applicable to other times of year – joined by counsellor in advanced clinical training, Chdel Chooke! This is a seriously useful watch, and highly validating – definitely worth tuning in.

In addition, here’s some basic, practical suggestions and affirmations in how you can practice some basic self care as a parent-carer. Chances are, you’ll already know these and have heard them many times before, but consider them a reminder and as validation…

Be kind and patient with yourself. Your struggle is VALID. Yes, other families may have even more complex situations to navigate, but it isn’t a ‘competition’. Every battle is valid.

Take EVERY opportunity for self care, no matter how small that moment of time may be. 5 minutes for a face mask, 10 minutes for some fresh air, every minute holds value.

Your self-care is no less valid than another persons – whether it’s 15 minutes with a book or a monthly spa treat. It’s easy to feel inadequate when we see others with a larger budget for time and money doing extravagant things!

Ask for help. Keep asking for help. Unfortunately, ‘help’ can be tricky to secure but don’t give up asking – don’t be afraid to be ‘that parent’.

Don’t be afraid to say “no”! Your time is precious, and people who matter will understand if you’re unable to make a party/gathering sometimes. It is ok to forgo a meal out if you need a nap after a bad night’s sleep.

This is where Sunshine Support can help you. As supporters of SEND parents, and as SEND parents ourselves, we know all too well that it can be highly difficult to practice self-care as a parent carer. We have some great events that will give you the opportunity to just… breathe, for a moment. You’ll also get to meet other parents in the same boat as yourself, and who doesn’t need more people in their support system? From friendly validation to experienced, lived advice, there’s so much you could get out of attending our events.

Join our Cuppa&Chat events!

Our Cuppa&Chat events are a regular free event we hold in two formats – online via Zoom, and in-person at our Hub in Derby every other Friday (with the occasional change in this pattern due to other events). Held between 10 am & 12 noon, this is a great opportunity to indulge in some self-care whilst your children are at school. At our Hub, we’ve created a safe space for conversations and support, and we also provide refreshments! Children are welcome, as we understand that many children in the SEND community struggle to access school, but we must remind you that you remain responsible for supervision, and the space is primarily for adult conversations. Booking is essential as space is limited!

Unable to make it to our Derby Cuppa&Chat? No problem – our online Cuppa&Chat could be perfect, especially as it falls in the evening.

Fancy letting your hair down? Our Mocktails & Cocktails night could be for you.

In partnership with Mambo Mobile Bar, we’re holding a night just for adults at our Derby hub! Whether you’re a drinker, or teetotal, you’ll be able to socialise with a group of SEND parents and carers who relate to you, and who are out to have a fabulous and fun evening to just be themselves. You’ll get to meet the friendly faces of the Sunshine Support team, too – we’re a friendly and supportive bunch who cannot wait to meet you in person.

Watch our founder Chrissa discussing ‘preserving quality mum and dad time’!

From admin to emails, clubs to events, and also supporting our children – often more than one – with SEND, our time is precious, and also very limited. This is why self-care is not only vitally important for us, but also wildly difficult to pencil into our calendars! Chrissa shares her thoughts below.

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