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How I Moved Beyond Helicopter Parenting And Into Self-Care As A Special Needs Mom

Dr. Vavilala tells us how self-care became an essential tool in her ability to efficiently care for her special-needs daughter, while also juggling her non-profit, her therapy practice, and publishing a book.

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I am the mother of a wonderful young daughter, Sabita, who has autism and is non-verbal. Being a special needs mom is my life. For the first few years of Sabita’s life, I was a helicopter mom. And this is perfectly normal, as a special-needs mom. You need to make sure your child is well-cared for, and you need to be their strongest advocate in a world that is largely uneducated about what special needs children actually go through. It’s only a year or two ago that I started allowing myself to practice self-care, and since then it has become a non-negotiable, not only because of how it helped me, but also because of how it helped my daughter.

When I first started, I had to really think about what self-care could mean to me, because self-care can mean different things to different people. What works for me might not work for everybody. What relaxes me involves being active, for others it could be a leisurely walk or a good read.

At first, I was scared that I was being selfish, but I now realize that allowing time for self-care actually makes me a better mom. By seeing the positive results, others can also be inspired to follow my example. If I start compromising on self-care, I cannot function at the level that I do, juggling the responsibilities of being a special needs mom, a therapist operating a group practice, and soon, the owner of a therapy center for children with autism, and a published children’s book author.

How I started taking care of myself

For many years, I spent most of my time at home, and my practice of self-care started out slowly. I was getting bored with the regular gym, so I started going to CrossFit when my daughter was at school and joined a fantastic community of women, three of which became my closest friends. Taking that first step of joining CrossFit showed me that I did have time to take care of myself, on top of my responsibilities as a mother and an entrepreneur. I enjoyed the group aspect of CrossFit – the friends that hold you accountable. And I also love that it is so goal oriented. I can see that I’m making progress. It’s reinforcing and rewarding. 

Having friends meant that I was going out more on the weekends, and my daughter spent more time with her dad. Their relationship really improved as a result. Little by little, my self-care practice started including a weekly massage which has now become a non-negotiable, as well as spa days, and always learning exciting new things, like learning to fly a plane!

How it made me more efficient

I am still very busy outside of my self-care practice but in the past, when I got busy at work, self-care was the first thing that went out the window. When I started getting really into self-care, I realized that it actually made me more efficient in all other areas of my life. I got more done in the same amount of time. I was able to process things faster, and live life with more intensity. I was more time efficient, and wasted much less energy, because all my energy was properly directed.

Self-care became structured into my schedule. Before, self-care used to mean trading off for something “important.” But now I build the “important” stuff around my self-care practice. When I go to my massage appointment, I can do work on the way there, and I’ll be more present and committed to the work I’ll be doing right after my massage is over. In my work, I learned to delegate to the people who could do a better job than I could, and they were happy to take on the extra work.

Why it became a non-negotiable

The biggest thing I have learned from this is that if you see self-care as an afterthought or as a trade-off, you’ll never get it done. And if you never get it done, you will never allow yourself the time to breathe, you will be less efficient in the long run, and you’ll let your emotions get the best of you. You won’t be as productive in your work, or as present in your relationships. If, as a special needs mom, I dedicate my life to my daughter, that means she needs me at my best. And I could never be at my best if I didn’t take the time to care for myself.

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