Special Needs Parents and Nap Envy

03/11/2015 05:09 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2015
Daly and Newton via Getty Images

Knowing a number of other parents with special needs kids I can safely say that we're all well acquainted with the concept of near constant and perpetual exhaustion. I'm not complaining and I do have this small aspect of special needs family living fully in perspective. That said, I sure do feel tired sometimes and would be lying if I didn't admit that there are days when an afternoon nap would be like cool water to a lost wanderer in the desert.

To parents of "typical" kids, as an explanation, I'll just say try to remember when your kids were infants or toddlers and how damn tired you were all the time. For many, if not most, special needs parents that's what our lives are like but it extends way beyond those first several years. I'm not generalizing or intimating that our children are infantile or universally more challenging than typical kids. I've just found through my own experience and that of friends with special needs kids that one element we all have in common is an unwavering and unrelenting desire to just lay down for a few minutes. Please.

I think this is a common thread between this group of parents. It's one of those things that doesn't even really need to be discussed. When I meet other parents in this club it's just a baseline assumption that we're not getting enough sleep or rest. The responsibility of taking care of our children and all the attention they require creates a kind of Exhaustion Snowball that continually rolls forth and gains girth as we pursue this course of raising our kids that isn't at all defined. It's as if we're constantly breaking new ground and are not unlike explorers facing the unknown. Never really being quite sure where we're headed and if the end result will be paradise, a swamp or most likely something very much in-between.

What I've found interesting is that physically I've completely adjusted to the pace and structure of my life which is certainly different from how I ever envisioned it. Also, let me note that things, in my family's experience, have gotten easier over the years as my daughter matures and evolves in her own wonderful way. However, what I've realized in retrospect is that the physical adjustment one makes to whatever the specifics of their living situation may be is the easy part. I think the actual source of the constant tiredness is the psychic and emotional demands our lives require.

I strongly believe that the uncertainty and gravity of the decisions we're faced with about our children's education, health and social life contribute far more to nap-envy then not getting enough sleep or losing the ability to relax as you might have in the past. No special needs parent knows what the hell they're doing initially and there's no real prescribed path to guide us through the emotional experience which must be managed if anything is to get done and progress is to be made. I remember very early in the process of recognizing and addressing my daughter's issues where I'd be lying in bed unable to sleep, my thoughts chaotically racing in a thousand different directions. Ultimately, for my wife and I, it was moving towards somehow managing this emotional roller-coaster that started our family on a path towards pro-active, sensitive planning and clear focus on our daughter's needs.

So, for new parents of special needs kids, I'll just say that an afternoon nap may be enticing, elusive and, very likely, not in the cards. Please do not bemoan this reality. It's something to work towards as there's nothing wrong with stealing a nap wherever and whenever time/life permits. If you manage things efficiently and take care of yourself perhaps the desire may fade. It certainly has, to some degree, for me. Yawn.