Self Care When Parenting Complex Needs – We need a life boat, not a rubber ducky

Parenting complex needs kids is hard. Beyond hard. Until you have been in the situation of raising someone with complex needs, I don’t think anyone can truly comprehend how all encompassing the struggle can be. It affects everything in your life. Every moment of your day. So, of course, self care becomes very important. But what frustrates me is when people throw out these ideas for self care that will not help these parents. We are drowning. We don’t need a rubber ducky, we need a life boat!

Self Care When Parenting Complex Needs - We need a lifeboat not a rubber ducky

Recently, I shared an article on my Facebook page about self care when parenting complex needs. It generated a lot of comments and feedback.

And selfishly, this made me incredibly happy. Not because my fellow parents are struggling, but because I wasn’t the only one fed up.

Self Care When Parenting Complex Needs

We’re fed up with doctors, therapists, friends, neighbors, family and random people on the internet telling us we need to focus on self care. Like if we go out for dinner, or get a pedicure, our lives are suddenly going to be so much better.

Have these people actually parented these types of kids? Most of the time, leaving these children with sitters results in major issues. Taking a couple of hours to go out without the kids, usually results in a phone call to rush home, or days of intense backlash.

Plus the cost. Finances are a huge concern when parenting special needs kids. The idea of spending money on something so frivolous and fleeting as a beauty salon visit, when you haven’t been able to sleep or relax or function fully in months, maybe even years, is crazy.

Sugar-coating the Issue Doesn’t Help

The article I shared compared the self care advice offered by most people to the idea of giving a candy bar to a person suffering from malnourishment. It’s the perfect comparison. A candy bar is a wonderful little pick me up and treat to a healthy person. But to someone literally starving to death the candy bar does not address the problem, it doesn’t provide nourishment, it doesn’t heal the person. In fact, it can cause harm to their digestive system, that is already struggling so much, to suddenly have all those sugars and chemicals invading.

Just like a pedicure might be a wonderful little break for someone that is generally healthy, eating well, managing their stress and just needs a little break from the busyness of life. But it doesn’t work for those of us that are truly overwhelmed. Where the struggles never end.

When you are in a situation that causes stress levels the equivalent of soldiers and results in PTSD, your mental health needs more than a short break. Especially when those breaks create even more stress.

So many special needs parents are drowning. We don’t need you to toss a rubber ducky at us. We don’t need to make the water seem more appealing.

We need a lifeboat. We need something that is going to help us navigate the rough waters and keep us afloat through all of the struggles, now and into the future.

Without a Strong Foundation, Self Care Isn’t Enough

We need access to quality medical care, highly trained therapists. We need trained respite workers that are dedicated to our family, and able to work with us for the long term.

We need funding help to pay for these supports.

We need a community that understands that we are doing the best we can. That can support us through the good and the bad.

We need friends and networks of people that “get it” and take the time to understand the needs of our child and family. And how they can offer truly affect support and assistance.

When we are being held up, over a stable and secure safety net, then we can focus on the little things. The moments that add a little sparkle to our days. Like having pretty toes.

I’m thankful that I live in a place that provides a lot of help. We have some medical care that is covered. We have funding support for respite, but finding quality respite is so hard. I have people in my circles that “get” trauma and “get” giftedness and anxiety. I can’t tell you how important it is for me to feel the smothering of going under, only to look over and see that the woman next to me understands. She gets it.

She also knows not to say, “You should go for a pedicure!”

Self Care When Parenting Complex Needs - We need a lifeboat not a rubber ducky


Childhood trauma is often overlooked, greatly misunderstood, and one of the most damaging things that can happen to a child. Childhood Trauma Resources

The Trauma Tree - Understanding The Impact of Childhood Trauma

How can we raise a child that truly believes they can do hard things? That is brave and strong? Especially when the lies of trauma history fill their minds?