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Lean on Me

Where To Go To De-Stress and Recharge

Six years ago, Laurie Barone moved from Florida to Lewisville with her husband and two boys—Ben, 18, who has Asperger’s syndrome, and Cade, 10, who has autism spectrum disorder. “I was feeling totally overwhelmed and starting to freak out,” Barone admits. “We moved away from both sets of grandparents and a strong church family, and here, I felt on my own and alone.”
She started attending monthly meetings for parents with kids with special needs through the Lewisville ISD, and these meetings provided lots of helpful info, but that’s not what Barone needed. She wanted a social outlet, somewhere she could decompress, recharge and come back to her family feeling refreshed.
Barone was directed to Kelly Andrus and her AUsome Moms network, one of a handful of local social support groups dedicated to getting Mom out of the house. Andrus, who has two boys of her own—Bradley, 8, is on the spectrum, and Wilson, 3, is neurotypical—says getting moms out of isolation is really her goal. So the group organizes monthly dinners, painting parties, craft nights and other events that are just for moms (in this case, moms with children on the autism spectrum). “We want the moms in the group to have fun, feel supported and meet other moms face to face,” says Andrus, who initially started the group as a virtual Facebook community. “Online is great, but moms need to get away from their day-to-day stresses of home, kids and family life, and we try to make that possible for them.”
Parents who have children with special needs really need community, support and someone to lean on when life gets too hard, when they feel like throwing in the towel, says Violeta Kadieva, family therapist and professor at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth. “As the daily caretaker, moms (in many cases, not all) can experience great stress that could become catastrophic,” she says. “It can lead to emotional exhaustion and complete burnout.” Or something worse. Prolonged stress has been linked to heart and lung disease, digestive issues, infertility, anxiety, depression and more. So Kadieva encourages these moms to seek out support groups, get therapy and find ways to release stress through mindfulness, meditation, focusing on the present and taking care of yourself, which includes these social outlets.
And though going to dinners, wine tastings and other events with other parents who understand the fatigue and challenges that come with parenting a child with disabilities can be very therapeutic and restorative, it can also be a little intimidating at first. Barone remembers her first dinner with 20 women she didn’t know; she made a pledge to talk to those around her, and she left the evening feeling reenergized. “It’s so easy to get absorbed into your family situation and lose track of who you are,” Barone says. “The social outings give me time away from the chaos when I can just be Laurie among friends who totally understand.”
To find your tribe that helps you de-stress, be yourself and have fun, and look for a local online community that plugs itself as a social group. Meetups and Facebook groups are good places to search, or start with a parent-to-parent support group through an organization or church, Kadieva suggests. (Check our directory on page 26.) Then consistency is the key, Kadieva says. All moms (and dads), but especially those with children with special needs, should engage in something social in nature at least once a week to help them relieve stress. “Create a pattern for yourself,” she says, “and schedule your [social] time just as you do the therapies and doctor appointments for your kids.”
Since the AUsome Moms network spans the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area and most of the activities happen on a monthly basis, Barone connected with some of the other moms in Lewisville, and they started a weekly Breakfast Club after dropping their kids off at school. They’re also going to do a movie night, and they’re talking about a girls’ weekend away too.
“Isolation just makes your problems get bigger,” Barone says. “In my journey to find a social outlet, I’ve gained not just a support system but a group of compassionate friends.”