What is on the family agenda today? Who’s dropping off and picking up? Can we divide and conquer? Juggling a family’s schedule and each individual’s needs can be complicated at times. When a family includes a person with special needs, maintaining balance can be even more challenging, as a lot of attention is understandably spent on that person.
While it may seem difficult to find time for every family member, doing so can bring balance. It may go without saying, but spending quality time with each family member can help everyone feel loved and important. Relationships within the family can be strengthened, and family members may become more willing to pitch in and help. With the extra support from the family as a unit, parents may experience a sense of relief and feel less burdened, which in turn gives them more time to spend with other family members, increasing time available for family fun.
There May Be Bumps Along the Way
This may sound easier to do than it actually is (and yes, finding family balance is something every family can benefit by, whether living with special needs or not), but in the long run, it’s worth it — if families will give it a try. Of course, it’s expected that some days will go more smoothly than others; other days will find a family member or two unwilling to make the effort. It happens, and it’s ok.
Is Balance Really Attainable?
Making a conscious effort to focus on each family member’s interests and needs is possible. Consider the following ideas to get started in your own family:
- Communicate openly and often – Initiate topics of conversation that help you understand one another better. Share your feelings about many aspects of your lives, but especially how you’re dealing with life as a family with special needs. Try to focus on the positive, but discuss the difficulties, too, to help resolve those feelings and issues.
- Take a sincere interest in each other’s day – Share what’s happened in your day, and if others aren't sharing, ask. Although it can be difficult in hectic lives where activities overlap, make the effort to attend games, dance or music recitals, school plays and other events together in support of one another. Celebrate achievements, big or small. And when someone’s had a bad day, help make it better. Acknowledge, talk it out and give extra love when it’s needed.
- Share burdens and blessings – Talk about what makes you happy, and what doesn't, especially how living in a family with special needs makes you feel. Recognize that while you likely have more responsibilities and less independence than other families, there are certain benefits, too. Siblings may not realize it until they’re grown, but they’ll learn to see the world with more compassion, understanding and determination. Being open now about burdens and blessings may help them see that sooner.
- Acknowledge that everyone’s stressed – Recognize that children’s stresses are no less weighty from their point of view. The test in school, the argument with a friend, or the wish for an item too expensive to buy may not equate with your concern about a new medicine or therapy for your loved one with a special need, but in their minds, it does. It’s not the issue — it’s how the issue makes a person feel.
- Make a conscious effort for fun family activities – Encourage one another to be selective with personal activities. It can help reduce stress caused by overbooked schedules and enable more time for family activities. Plan worthwhile activities that include all members of the family, but be sure to try to reserve some individual time too. As guilty as you may feel for doing so, know that a little “me time” can do everyone some good to rejuvenate.
We All Need Somebody to Lean On
Things happen; life happens. Sometimes you feel isolated, or things aren't working despite your best efforts. Sometimes you need reassurance or guidance from others who are in similar situations. Reach out to others. Search for blogs by parents who are trying to find family balance, or for other helpful resources for families with special needs.
Finding Balance Financially
Creating a financial strategy can help resolve some family stress and burdens by assuring everyone their needs are being considered: siblings’ future college expenses, parents’ retirement, legacies for all children, lifetime financial support for your child with special needs, and maybe even a plan to enable parents to work fewer hours or quit work entirely (therefore, providing more family time).
What is it your family needs or wants? Whatever your priorities, dreams or goals are, a Financial Professional with experience serving the special needs community can work with your team of advisors1 to answer your questions and help you strategize. And with one less concern vying for your attention, you may be able to refocus energy on the family time and strike the balance you’re looking for.