Solo Parenting a Special Needs Child in the Midst of a Pandemic

I’m going to be very honest with you: I’m starting this blog by admitting, there’s been a lot of frozen pizzas, cereal for dinner, ice cream for breakfast and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse marathons around here as I’m learning to embrace imperfect parenting. – Jenny McCormick

Having gone through 129 days in the NICU with my former 26-week micro-preemie wasn’t only difficult, but after the trauma of witnessing my youngest child almost die, our family felt indelibly different. Throw in an Autism diagnosis among other learning and social difficulties and that means my parenting experience is vastly different from that of my peers. During Joshua’s early arrival, NICU stay and his early intervention years, my husband and I were able to tag team Joshua’s many different therapies, collaborate on goals and find a way to muster through the days with our two boys.

Then on October 5th 2014, I went from being part of a parenting team to something else. My husband passed away from a 9-month battle with an aggressive form of cancer. I lost my sounding board. I lost his contribution to our household income and I lost the safety of parenting as a team.

The Coronavirus crisis is tough on all families. But for solo and single parents, having to suddenly manage kids whose schools and extracurricular activities are closed can be especially overwhelming and if you are raising a child with special needs, the “new normal” you are facing can be downright crushing for you and your child without a routine or support of the services in place prior to Covid.

The positive news is that, as a solo parent with a special needs child, you have survived so much already. You have survived the horrible time before a diagnosis when you didn’t know what was going on with your child. You survived the diagnosis and all the feelings that come with it. As a Preemie Parent, you are no stranger to isolation. As a matter of fact, you are an isolation pro! You’ve carried hand sanitizer in your pocket long before “La Rona.” Lastly, as a solo or single parent, you’ve discovered strengths you never knew you had before. Use all of these gifts to your advantage and you will survive this. It may not look pretty, but I can confidently say I’m okay with that. Give yourself permission to be okay with whatever your “that” looks like, too.

We have all been called to learn how to parent in a crisis. The majority of us do not have degrees in education nor are we trained therapists to support kids with special needs. We just love one and we are doing our best. Here are some helpful tips to help you survive during distance learning:

  • Be kind to yourself.  Acknowledge right now that you are in survival mode. When others are saying, “this is a good time to work on things, clean out the garage perhaps…” remember that there is only one of you and YOU are doing the job of two people, if not more. This is a time to survive and get by and that’s OKAY.
  • Set the parenting bar lower.  Accept that there are going to be some days when everyone is cooperative, fed, bathed and exercised and then there are the other days when the cooperation just isn’t there and instead of a nutritious meal, you know McDonald’s drive thru is in your future. That’s OKAY. The key is to let it go and try again tomorrow.
  • Adjust academic goals.  It is impossible to work from home and be your children’s teacher five days a week. You can only do what you can and that’s OKAY. Reach out to your children’s teachers. Trust me, they are in the same boat and they get it. Let them know what you’re up against as a solo parent and keep those lines of communication open.
  • IEP’s.  Know that some of those IEP goals just may not be met and that’s OKAY. We all worry that without proper classroom settings and therapists, our children may regress, their progress may stall and our patience and parenting skills will be tested. Communicate with your IEP team. They are there to support you and they are genuinely interested in your well-being and helping your child thrive. If all you can do is read with your child, consider that a win. Goals will look much different this new school year.
  • Self-care is essential.  We all hear it. We preach it. We know the importance of it. But how do we manage it when we are solo parenting kids 24/7? Self care doesn’t always mean heading to a day spa or weekend getaway (but when you can, RUN and RUN fast!) Sometimes, especially during these unprecedented times, self care simply means finding a few minutes a day for yourself. Be selfish with your time; that’s OKAY! Schedule time to take a walk, meditate, take breaks throughout the day even if it’s just to stretch and drink coffee. You’ve heard this countless times, but it still holds true; you can’t pour from an empty cup.
  • Find your village.  If ever there were a time to ask for help, now is that time. Easier said than done for many of us, I know. But if it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that solo parents can’t do it alone. We weren’t meant to do it alone. The old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child” has never been more necessary than it is today, especially for a solo parent raising a special needs child. This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way, stubborn Aries girl that I am! Between the isolation of social distancing and the demanding requirements of caring for a special needs child alone, many days the magnitude of what we are up against is enough to break us. This is where you need to remember to reach out. It’s OKAY to let others know that you are overwhelmed. Sometimes, just a quick conversation with a confidant is enough to get us through the day. I’m grateful for the many wonderful people who have come into my life to support and encourage my little family. Friends, family, educators, co-workers, whoever it is, embrace their support.

There is no magic spell that will make living through this crisis easy, but live through it we must. So embrace frozen pizzas and ice cream for breakfast now and then. No, it’s not perfect parenting but you are doing what you can and THAT is enough.

Please feel free to comment below and provide other ideas to help parents get through this time. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *