written by Carrie Hunsucker
A mother of any child will tell you that raising children, managing a household, and being a good partner/spouse is difficult in any situation. If you add in the extra responsibilities and stress of raising an exceptional child, it gets even harder. You may get a chuckle out of the concept of pursuing your passions while navigating the special-needs journey.
It may be hard to visualize a life where you have the time, energy, and resources to follow your passions or pursue your dreams. However, regardless of your situation, I do believe that following your passions is possible. And I want to do everything I can to help mothers of exceptional children who desire to seek personal pursuits.
I believe that mothers of all shapes and sizes can structure their lives to allow for a rich personal life. It takes some work and forethought, but passions can be pursued through these steps:
The first step in any plan is defining the end goal.
If you haven’t had time to reflect on your dreams, I’d suggest you block out an hour to do so. I’ve been using the strategy found in The Passion Test book for many years, and this method of identifying your true passions has served me very well. (This book is on my list of books that have significantly impacted my life!)
Twice a year (typically New Year’s Day and July 1), I sit down and delineate “My Ideal Life”. I brainstorm with the following prompt:
“In my ideal life, I…
I then fill out the three categories with all the things that come to mind. No judgments, just freewriting all the things I want to do, be, or have in my ideal life.
Next, I combine all the bullets from these lists and rank them. I like using the Prioritization Grid created in the What Color Is Your Parachute? book. I find this tool very useful for ordering any list.
Once I have my list prioritized, I copy the top five items into a journal or blank document. I spend some time reflecting on each goal. I turn each bullet point into a SMART goal, which means that it is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound. You can read more about SMART Goals here.
It may help to journal about these five dreams or create a vision board. Whatever works for your personality and motivation. I’ve been using this method since 2010 and look forward to the creation of new or continued goals every six months. I find that six months is a reasonable timeframe for me to refocus, as I tend to get bored if I only “dreamline” once a year.
I often find that I only am pursuing 2-3 of the “passions” I’ve created for myself by the end of every six months. I think it’s only really feasible to focus on 2-3 goals at a time. The most important ones over the six months capture my focus and attention, and the rest become less of a priority.
After you’ve defined your goals, the next step is to eliminate anything that isn’t necessary towards keeping yourself and your household running.
Remove anything extra that isn’t helping you towards your ambitions. Since this is different for every person, only you can decide what is essential to keep on your agenda or to-do list.
I like to run every task and relationship through this litmus test: Is this task necessary to you and your family's health and well-being? Keep it. Does a project help you focus on those passions you prioritized? If it doesn’t, and it’s not necessary, remove it if possible. If you can’t remove it, can it be outsourced?
It also helps to put your relationships through this test. Do your friends help inspire you to reach for your goals? If not, perhaps you should spend less time on those relationships. You’ve probably heard that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so stop and consider to whom you’re giving your time.
Those that know me well know I’m a big fan of everything the author Tim Ferriss puts out. In The Four Hour Work Week, a book about time management and lifestyle design, he presents the following flow chart created by one of his fans:
I took the liberty of recreating this flowchart to fit the possible priorities of a mother of an exceptional child:
As you review your habits and your routines, think about what isn’t necessary for you to do anymore. What can you eliminate? What can you batch together to reduce wasted time (we all know now that multitasking isn’t productive!). For example, do you run to the grocery store four times a week because you don't have a meal plan? Could you make crockpot dinners to save time or meal prep on Sundays?
Think about what you can outsource. My retired mother-in-law is a great help because she helps me research equipment, treatments, therapies, etc. She wants to help us with Hazel's care but lives seven hours away. Her efforts are one way she can help me with the tasks involved with having a child with special needs. (And she's very good at it, and I'm very grateful!)
When you free up your time by eliminating, batching, and outsourcing, you will be able to carve out a free hour once a week or day to work toward your personal goals. Finally, following your passions while raising a child with special needs takes the right mindset.
You must prioritize your wants and needs as highly as you prioritize your child's or your partner's.
I know this is very hard for many mothers because we are trained to believe we should be martyrs to our families.
But do you want your child raised with the message that a mother is less important than all members of the family? Do you want your daughter to sacrifice her personal life because she chose to have children?
Putting your wants and needs as an equal priority as your family’s is vital for your health and longevity. As I've said before, we are in this for the long haul, and we need to keep ourselves healthy and strong so that we can be the best moms for our exceptional and typical kids. If we don't prioritize our fulfillment and health, we may suffer mentally, emotionally, and physically!
Prioritizing yourself means putting your personal goals and pursuits on the weekly calendar. It means sitting down on Sundays and placing an hour on Friday that you get all to yourself, where you can work on your passion projects because you've defined what they are and how you're going to achieve them already!
It means communicating with your spouse about your need for time to devote to your fulfillment. It means keeping that commitment to yourself and not scheduling something during that placeholder (unless it is not moveable or is urgent).
It means asking for help to get the time and energy to focus on those goals. It's finding a babysitter, respite services, or another form of caregiving for that particular block of time each week. It's OK to ask for help and take that time to serve your own needs!
I hope my path to following my passions is helpful to other moms who struggle with placing a priority on their inner lives. It takes a commitment and some focus. But moms of kids with special needs can and do have rich personal ambitions. For me, it took creating a process of defining my dreams, eliminating unimportant tasks, outsourcing the outsourceable ones, and re-training my mindset to place a priority on myself and my well-being.
What about you? Does this process resonate with you? Or have you created a different method for working towards your dreams, both small and large?