There's no question that caring for a child with special needs can be daunting and time consuming, which is why so many parents and caregivers often end up neglecting their own health in the process. Who has time to head to the gym or take a nap when your child needs constant care?
R&B singer and member of Boyz II Men Shawn Stockman and wife Sharhonda are more than familiar with that dilemma. They are the proud parents of three kids: 6-year-old daughter Brooklyn and 12-year-old twin boys Ty and Micah. Right around the twins' first birthday, Micah started showing signs of autism and was formally diagnosed around age 2. His diagnosis motivated the Stockmans to launch Micah's Voice, a foundation that provides community and financial support to families affected by autism.
Here's how the couple makes time for themselves (and each other) while raising their family.
1. Make Eating Right a Priority
The Stockmans make sure they eat well because Micah has to — he's on a wheat- and gluten-free diet that consists of protein and lots of fruits and vegetables. The Stockmans say the diet has dramatically improved Micah's attention span and helped with hyperactivity.
"We knew we had to eat as clean as possible for Micah because he would think it wasn't fair that he was eating that way while we weren't," Sharhonda says. "We try to make it fun so he doesn't feel like he's missing the party."
The whole family eats a lot of leafy vegetables like kale, collard and mustard greens, as well as fruit, poultry, and fish.
2. Get Moving
Exercise is something the couple refuses to skimp on. With Shawn being in the music business, he's always had a personal trainer. Now that the kids take up a lot of his time, he finds apps like the 7 Minute Workout helpful when he can't make it to the trainer.
"We have kids, we have careers, and there's a lot going on, but I try to do something every day — whether it's sit ups, pushups, mountain climbers, or jumping jacks," he says.
They also just purchased an elliptical machine, which Micah's twin Ty likes to work out on as well. Sharhonda also enjoys doing yoga for stress relief and often has to share the mat with her daughter Brooklyn, who will join her for downward facing dog.
3. Be Selfish
The couple knows that taking time for themselves is imperative for their wellbeing. That means getting enough sleep, booking their annual physicals and other necessary doctor appointments for themselves, and just having "me time." Sharhonda admits that raising a child with autism is like having a full-time job, but she steals time for herself in order to be the best mother and person she can be.
"If I don't take care of myself, then I can't take care of Micah and my other kids. I have to be selfish and it doesn't mean I'm a terrible parent. I just need time alone," she says.
Sometimes she goes to lunch by herself and just sits in the restaurant with a good book.
"After I come back, I feel good," she says. Shawn calls it "reintroducing yourself to yourself."
4. Have Date Nights — or Date Mornings
Shawn and Sharhonda don't forget to make time for each other, either. Because of the stress that comes with having a child with autism, leaning on each other and spending quality time together is crucial. Sometimes they go for a drive, and other times they'll have "date night" at 10:30 in the morning while the kids are at school.
"It does wonders for our mental health. We're able to escape for a bit and focus on each other," Shawn says. "We tend to get so lost in being a parent or being everything else to everybody else that you lose who you are as a human being. It's important to have time alone together."
5. Ask for Help
The Stockmans say that parents of children with special needs shouldn't be afraid to ask a family member or friend for a hand.
"Swallowing your pride and asking for help is probably the biggest thing you can do for yourself," Shawn says. Sharhonda couldn't agree more. "And don't feel like you're bothering family and friends either," she says. "I just wish more people would offer help to us. The kind of help I'm referring to is just being there — providing company and friendship. Sometimes that emotional and mental support is better than the physical or the financial support."
6. Enjoy Life
Raising Micah and his siblings has definitely made the Stockmans stronger. They understand how precious life is.
"I've learned that compassion is important in order for a person to understand and appreciate life to the fullest," Shawn says. "My wife and I want to live and enjoy every moment. We didn't plan to have a child with autism. No one does. But it happened and it just lets us know how fragile life is."
Micah's Voice will present "Back in the Day," its second annual benefit concert for families affected by autism, on Sunday, April 10, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills, CA. The event will be hosted by James Corden of the Late Late Show and feature performances by Boyz II Men and R&B singer Tank. Honorees will include comedian Martin Lawrence and Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers. For more information, visit micahsvoice.com.