Previously, I wrote about how parents of special needs children may have moments of feeling inadequate and not up to the challenge. Parents may become discouraged and frustrated. If the sampling of people I know personally is any indication, parents often feel guilty, too—guilty for some of what they do and guilty for some of what they don’t do.
This is not exactly the peaceful, joyful life that all of us aspire to have.
We also discussed how it is most important to be kind to ourselves: to give ourselves the same understanding, encouragement, and compassion that we offer our child when at our parenting best.
What does being kind to ourselves mean?
Be kind to yourself. The phrase seems simple enough, but upon further thought it begs a question. How can we be kind to ourselves?
Being kind to ourselves can take a myriad of forms, depending upon you and your circumstances. It goes hand in hand with self-care. And no, sorry—it has nothing to do with a pint of ice cream 😉
Being kind means acknowledging the situation in which we operate. Did we start the day exhausted or sleep-deprived, and then find ourselves overwhelmed by either a serious problem or layers of small ones? Remember: We take on daily challenges that others rarely experience with more typical children.
Give yourself permission to change the environment. This may be as simple as escaping into the bedroom or bathroom for a few private, deep breaths while counting from 1 to 10. Or giving yourself permission to go have a good cry. At times, that may be all we’re capable of, so it’s precisely what we need to do! Afterward, we pick ourselves up and move on.
Going deeper to find relief
When I was in my most stressed, most-harried parenting years, I didn’t want advice like “go in the bathroom and breathe deeply.” Although I knew that might be exactly what was called for in some situations, such advice seemed to offer only short-term relief.
I yearned to find a way in which I could improve my family life permanently.
I wanted to figure out how to make the many aspects of my family’s daily living easier, smoother, more fun, and more peaceful. To be totally honest, I was desperate to feel more peace myself.
Eventually, I realized that my daughter Gracie wasn’t capable of moving through daily life easily or peacefully at that time in her life. So—in order to have more peace—the person to change had to be me.
This was hard to accept; I wanted to focus on my child, not turn attention toward myself. But that’s the beauty and the gift of special needs children. They challenge the adults in their lives to turn inward, dig deeper, and ultimately become better people.
In the example of the boy who fails a math test, a compassionate and skilled parent would help their son make changes in how he studies to achieve greater success. Similarly, parents can be kind to themselves by learning and practicing skills for more permanent, long-term improvement.
Two specific and helpful tools
Just when I needed them most, I stumbled upon two techniques that helped me become a better parent and better person. They allow me to feel calmer, more optimistic, and more in control of my life, despite my family’s overwhelming needs. My life improved and, by extension, so did the rest of the family’s.
I still use these tools and probably always will. I believe in them so much, I hope you consider trying them yourself. And connect with me if you want help taking your first step.
In a nutshell, and at the risk of overgeneralizing:
- Affirmations are the use of positive statements to effect positive change. They are a more left-brained, language-based approach for more analytical types.
- Visualization, sometimes in the form of guided imagery, is the use of imagination to effect positive change. This is a more right-brained approach using images in the mind that appeals to more creative types.
When I discovered these techniques, neither was as commonly known as today, and I thought them to be rather funky. Then I discovered how well they work. Like most things worthwhile, they don’t magically work overnight. As with other developed skills, their benefits accumulate with practice and regular use.
Parents can use both affirmations and visualization, but may have a strong preference for one over the other. It’s similar to choosing between two flavors of a healthy smoothie. The experiences may be different, but both are beneficial.
Meanwhile, please start to pay attention to your private thoughts and self-talk. Are you sending angry, insulting, or otherwise negative messages to yourself? Let’s plan to work together to change that. The benefits know no bounds.
If you catch yourself sending yourself a negative message, would you be willing to share it in the comments? Or contact me directly? And to start this new practice, include how you can reframe the message in a more positive way.