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You have to take care of yourself and that includes having fun

This is a post by Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty, mother to two sons on the autism spectrum and an Autism Family Partner at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). CHOP is an Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network site. Kim is also the author of a blog about her two children with autism at autismmommytherapist.wordpress.com.

Recently I spent twenty-four glorious hours in DC, my former stomping grounds of fifteen years. I ate Indian food, and spent hours chatting with my bestie. I got a blister walking into Georgetown, and waved to President Obama through the White House fence at night. My friend and I abandoned our kids and husbands for one fabulous weekend, and we plan to make it an annual event.

And Jeff managed an entire day-and-a-half on a weekend with both kids without help.

I’ll say it again - he managed for a day-and-a-half on a weekend without help.

Many of you who don’t know my husband may be doubting the competency of an individual who can’t watch a teen-ager and a nine-year-old for thirty hours without assistance, but my boys both have autism (my eldest is severe), and that can make things difficult sometimes. Both Jeff and I have found it challenging (sometimes that’s an understatement) to make it through an hour much less an entire day with the boys, and I’m a former educator who managed classrooms of thirty children with relative ease. There were entire years if one of us had something to do in the evening (usually it was a PTA meeting, nothing too exciting unfortunately) we’d literally have to have a sitter help with the bedtime routine, as we didn’t feel it was safe for one kid to be unattended while we put his sibling down.

As you can imagine, we didn’t get out much.

But I would say in the last two to three years there’s been a subtle shift toward independence in our household, with both boys maturing, and dare I say it, becoming much easier to manage. Three years ago I would have been able to pull off two week days in the nation’s capitol, but never a weekend, much less both weekend days. Three years ago I wouldn’t even have asked, knowing most likely complete havoc would have reigned chez McCafferty, and my little excursion to DC would have died an untimely death.

To see this one particular friend who’s flying in for our “event” we now need to see each other on a weekend, and I feel confident we can make this happen annually.

And I cannot tell you how utterly liberating this realization is to me.

I wrote this today for any parents of autistic children (or hell, any children) who may feel “stuck,” who are watching the parameters of their lives lessen, who feel the walls closing in on them. I can’t promise you it will get better, because everyone’s definition of “better” is different, and of course I don’t know your child or your family.

I will never make promises on this blog that I can’t keep.

But I will say this. You feel like you still want a life? Don’t give up. You need a night out with your hubby but you’re afraid to leave your kid with a sitter? Find someone you trust, work up to an evening out, and do it. I know most of us autistic families aren’t exactly rolling in extra funds, but one of the best ways you can be the best parent to your child is to take care of yourself.

I’ll say it again. If you want to be the best possible parent to your child you have to take care of yourself.

And that includes having fun.

So do whatever it takes, take up that nice neighbor on her offer to babysit, and go. Enjoy yourself. Have a drink (or two.) Eat too much. Put your child on the back burner for an hour or two and remember who you were before children came into your life. Recapture how much fun you used to be.

No matter what, just get out.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.