When my kids were little, I remember asking my husband, “What do parents of ‘typical’ kids do with all of their free time???”

Between arranging therapies, coordinating with the school, researching strategies and driving our kids to and from all of these appointments, we were lucky to find 5 minutes to talk about our days before collapsing into bed at night.

If your neurodivergent child is still young, I’m guessing you can relate.

Now that my kids are grown and living their own wonderfully rich lives, I’ve had some time to reflect on my parenting journey. I’m also fortunate to hear from families with autistic children all around the country.  While parenting older autistic kids has its own challenges, I’m confident that you will find more pockets of time as they become more independent.

So what do you do with those few minutes of found time?

Give yourself permission to think about yourself. 

It will feel very unnatural at first. When our children are young, they are completely dependent on us to fill all of their needs. As they grow, they are able to handle more of those needs on their own, even if it is as simple as making a bowl of cereal for breakfast.

It makes sense that our natural inclination is to fill that time by caring for more of their needs. There is ALWAYS something you can do for your kids. As they get older, the day-to-day tasks are often replaced with worrying about their future or checking in with young adult children who are not at home anymore.

I’m encouraging you to use those pockets of found time for yourself. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

Rekindle friendships.

Many parents of neurodivergent kids feel isolated. Maybe you’ve lost some friendships with peers who couldn’t understand why your family functioned a little differently. Maybe you’ve fallen out of touch with high school friends, college roommates or colleagues. It only takes a few minutes to send a text message or draft a quick email. Don’t obsess about delayed communication, just reach out to genuinely reconnect.

Revisit a hobby.

Back when free time was a regular component of your weekly schedule, you had hobbies that brought you joy and purpose. Maybe you love getting your hands in the dirt and gardening. Or maybe you value spending a few hours a month at a local food bank. Whatever brought you joy in your younger years, give it a try again. Or if you have outgrown those hobbies, give yourself permission to try a new one and see how you like it.

Read a book (for fun!)

Visit your local library and peruse the fiction section. Or flip through a magazine with no specific goal in mind. After so many years to reading for knowledge or insight or strategy, revel in this time to read for the joy of reading.

Plan a trip to a destination you’ve wanted to explore. 

Whether it’s across the country or across town, pretend like you’re planning a trip to a destination that catches your eye. Google the best restaurants. Research the local sights. Even if you aren’t able to travel immediately, it will get your wheels turning for future travel opportunities when you do have a few days to get away.

Focus on your personal growth.

Use these found minutes to revisit your own personal goals. My colleague Frances Victory has written an excellent book with interactive exercises that is specially designed for parents of neurodivergent kids. The exercises are both manageable and thoughtful and it will help you discover what’s important to you in this next phase. Get to know Frances and get a sneak peak at her book in our upcoming webinar – details below!

Running on empty: Self-Care for Parents of Neurodivergent Kids