Tag Archives: single mom

The Respite Requirement

by Hartley, Hartley’s Life With 3 Boys

I have been a special needs mom now for nearly 10 years. That sounds much more impressive than it is mostly because when my oldest was young, I didn’t believe I was a special needs mom, let alone have the guts to say it. The only thing I really would admit to was that parenting my son was challenging.

Ok not just challenging, but demanding, and unusually exhausting. Which made me feel like an utter failure. I remember having conversations with my husband where I was in tears saying I needed help with everything from the kids to the housework, where I tried to explain how I could be so overwhelmed after a day at home ‘just’ taking care of the kids and running errands. He never understood why I wasn’t giving Mary Poppins a run for her money and reminded me often that it was ME who wanted to be a stay at home mom. He was right  –  I did want to be a SAHM  –  but I never expected it to be so unbelievably hard, and I sure didn’t expect to be so bad at it.

I watched friends and neighbors parent their kids and it seemed like it was effortless for them. Packing up their toddlers and babies and heading to grab lunch with their friends at a restaurant, or heading over to watch the city parade on a whim, or strapping their little ones into a double stroller and hitting the mall to do some shoe shopping. How did they manage that?! Back then I didn’t really understand how incredibly different my life was from theirs. I hadn’t adopted the term ’special needs’ for my boys, or me and I sure didn’t think about respite. Perhaps I was even opposed to it. That somehow my need for a break only confirmed how much I sucked at parenting.

Fast forward a few years, add two more boys to the mix and a handful of diagnostic acronyms, and the picture was a tad clearer: I am a special needs mom.

And with that term came permission for me to acknowledge how much time and energy went into all of the logistics of having a special needs child(ren), not to mention the emotional worry and constant planning for their future that sneaks into your conscious thoughts (alongside the awareness that the future is completely out of your control) and the daily grind of everything from making peanut butter sandwiches with only creamy Jiff, on white bread, with the crusts cut off and cut into four perfect rectangles (or be forced to throw it away and start over) or going through social stories and preparing impromptu visual schedules just to make an unplanned trip to the grocery store. Why wouldn’t I be exhausted? Exhaustion should’ve been a given. Which means respite should’ve been too.

Parenting a child that has special needs requires you to be ‘on’ every day  –  all day. This is not for pansies  –  this is no meet-your-girlfriends-at-the-park-for-coffee type of parenting. This is 100% emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding of everything you have, every minute of every day and it never lets up. Like I said, exhaustion is a given, and respite should be too.

My kids are difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I love my boys and wouldn’t trade them for anything, but the truth is, most days, I need a break. Some time when I am not calling the doctor, or filling out another assessment form, or running to the pharmacy, or planning what to cook, or washing the ‘right’ clothes for morning, or picking up Legos, or whatever. And other days? Other days I think running away to Mexico is a good idea, because maybe they won’t find me and my wine-serving taco truck on the beach and drag me home.

Years ago I felt guilty for wanting a break. Not anymore. I still get exhausted, overwhelmed and worn out because I am parenting in a high-demand, insanely busy world, where my ‘bosses’ are three small boys who could not have higher expectations of me. But now I know Mary Poppins has got nothing on me.

So long as I get my respite time, and lots of it. It is a requirement of my sanity and my ability to perform my job. I have to find time to regroup, unwind, de-stress and generally NOT have to be ‘on’.

And after 10 years of this intense parenting stuff, I have learned that needing respite time doesn’t mean I am bad at parenting, it means I am GOOD at it.

You are too.

This was originally published on the SPD Foundation’s Blog  – head over there are read the other amazing posts from great SPD moms and dads!


Hartley Steiner lives in the Seattle area with her three sons. She is the award winning author of the SPD Children’s book This is Gabriel Making Sense of School with a 2nd Edition to be released April 2012, and Sensational Journeys (available now at http://www.fhautism.com) as well as the founder of the SPD Blogger Network (www.spdbloggernetwork.com). She is a contributing writer for the SPD Foundation’s blog, S.I. Focus Magazine and Autism Spectrum Quarterly, among dozens of other online websites and blogs. You can find her chronicling the never ending chaos that is her life on the blog Hartley’s Life With 3 Boys (www.hartleysboys.com) and on Twitter as @ParentingSPD. When she isn’t writing, or dealing with a meltdown, she enjoys spending time in the company of other adults preferably with good food and even better wine.



Filed under Remembering to Breathe

Before I Break

by Nikki

A different, earlier version of me may (would) have considered this past 24 hours to be selfish, a waste of money, and worthy of mounds of guilt. Fortunately, she’s gone – hopefully forever – and in her place is the 40 year old me that understands the value of taking a break before *I* break.

It has been building for a while. There were the normal stresses of the holidays, followed by seeing those extra holiday/winter pounds every time I look in the mirror. And my kids got head lice right around Christmas. I know what you’re thinking. And you’re right. Lice is gross and it’s a lot of work. But, really, I can handle all of that. And then in the middle of January I fell. Broke my shoulder. Yes, it was one of those icy days here in Vermont. But that wasn’t a factor. I fell in my kitchen – tripped over the damn vacuum cleaner cord and crashed into my cabinets. At that moment the real stress began.

I am a single mom. I have 4 kids. I own my own home. And, oh yeah, I am strong-willed and fiercely independent. I didn’t want to ask for help but I had to. Actually, strike that. I didn’t have to ask for help, I had to *accept* help. My mom moved in for a few days without me having to ask. My best friend spent that first, horrendous night with me when I was brutally sick from the meds (and likely from hitting my head) even after I insisted I was fine alone. Other friends made meals and transported my kids and stopped to fill my pellet stove. Without me having to ask. So, yeah, my friends and family rock. But the accepting is very difficult for me. It makes me anxious.

Then there were endless basketball games and homework and kids fighting and the less-than-pleasant, not at all easy to work with ex-husband. And just for the fun of it, life decided to pile on. My daughter hurt her knee and needs physical therapy twice a week, 25 minutes away. My son got sick and we’re still trying to figure it out. The past couple of weeks have been full of doctor appointments, tests with specialists, an ER visit, lots and lots of missed school, and that constant, aching, deep-in-your-bones worry when something is wrong with your child and it may be serious.

Three nights ago I was a wreck. Overtired, anxious, grumpy. My kids were fighting and I felt like I may burst. I texted a friend and said “I don’t want to be a mother tonight.”. This was bad. I put the kids to bed early, sat on my couch, and cried.

I opened my laptop and I booked myself a deluxe oceanfront room right on the beach in Maine. My happy place. I knew that I needed to get away in order to keep myself from running away.

After checking in yesterday I put on extra layers and immediately started walking on the beach. The waves were loud, the wind was furious, and I just let it all go. I stood on the beach alone and I cried the ugly cry. I thought about all of the things that have been making me anxious and I cried for every single one of them. And then I stopped. I gave my anxiety to the waves. The ocean gives me strength, it gives me perspective.

This night away does not erase all of my troubles. They will still be there when I return home later today. But it does buoy me (forgive the sea-related pun). It has allowed me to just be me for a while. I have cried, I have read and slept and treated myself to a seafood dinner and watched The Hangover on cable. I have sat in the over-sized chair for long periods of time just staring at the waves. I have recharged.

Tomorrow it all starts again. The normal everyday rigors of life. And maybe some not-so-normal ones too. But because I valued myself and my sanity enough to escape for a while, I will fight the fight with renewed energy. I will be able to be a better mom to my kids this week because I was good to myself first.


Nikki is a work-at-home single mom with four kids, ranging in age from teenager to first grader. When life threw her a curve ball, she hit back hard and with a vengeance. She believes that life is what you make of it: you can either sit at home and watch the Oscars in your pajamas or buy a fancy dress at the thrift store and party in style. She has dedicated the last 14 years to creating a better life for her children, and now knows it’s time to create that better life for herself as well.


Filed under Remembering to Breathe