Autism and filling up your peanut butter jar

Miranda Steffen

As parents, we give our all to our children. As special needs parents, we give our all and then scrape the edges and find more – like that last little bit of peanut butter in the jar. Somehow, you manage to make a sandwich, but let’s be honest. It’s not as good as the sandwich before. The sandwich with the ACTUAL amount of peanut butter you want. This so-called snack has a smear at best. Alas, you must eat, so you settle for this sorry excuse. Eventually, though, you have to get more peanut butter.

I think we are some of the strongest parents out there….for our kids. So many of us put ourselves last because, let’s face it, sometimes it feels like the only option. Sometimes it IS our only option. It’s not terribly healthy, though. If *I* am at my personal wit’s end, then I am admittedly terrible at handling the children’s wit’s end. Add autism to this? Oh boy. Add *puberty*? I’ll say it’s not exactly flowers and sunshine. As it turns out, Aiden can be much louder for much longer than me so it’s a losing battle from the get-go. A few days ago, he was upset about something or other. I was stressed out and had zero emotional availability to handle the issue like a sane and reasonable adult. After snapping at him, he escalated and did his battle cry scream (Thank you, neighbors, for trusting that we aren’t in the murdering business. It can sound like that in our house on a bad day.). Later, in his room, he tearfully said, “sometimes hard to not scream”. I’ve gotta say, I felt that to my core. Sometimes it IS hard to not scream and I have a TON more coping skills than he does.

So what do you do? How do you refill your peanut butter jar, so to speak? I like to say I am selflessly selfish with Time For Me, and I highly encourage you to do the same. By that I mean I try and regularly step away from Everything, but I’m doing it so I can come back a better, recharged and refreshed parent. Everyone wins. It’s a hard habit to start. It can feel like things are going to fall apart if you step away for a few hours, but it’s gonna be okay. Hubs and I each have our own things that we do solo from the family. He has weekly game nights with friends. I just started weekly trivia nights, but also go walking with friends and meet up for bookclub as often as our schedules allow. Single parent? Been there. Check to see if there are any local respite services in your area. The one in our area provides free care for about four hours for people with disabilities through age 21 and their siblings through age 12. My kids LOVE going so it’s a guiltless drop off – BONUS!

And if you are still reading this and thinking, “That doesn’t work for me” let me encourage you to ask for help. If your family doesn’t “get it” and friends aren’t available, lean on your autism community. That is a super hero collective of resources that will help you save your sanity. My favorite events are those that are put on through our local autism groups. Why? Because no one is going to look at you sideways no matter what your child is doing. You can stand and talk to a stranger about poop, prozac, and whatever else is on your plate. They get it. We all get it. Sometimes, just having that piece of mind, that little exhale, is all I need to fill up that jar just enough for our next adventure.

What do you do for you? What CAN you do for you? Here’s to you and your spirit and staying strong for you and yours.

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