You ARE a Superhero!

Everyday superhero

I have read a few posts now on social media sites where parents, of children with disabilities, feel less than or unexceptional.  They have put it out there that they have limitations or not all of the answers and at times overwhelmed.  A few people have even said that they realize that they are not a superhero.

I can relate to this.  I have been there.  The reality is we are human, but I have to disagree with not being a “Superhero”.  When I look at the superheroes that my children watch or read about, here is what I have found:

  1. The gig is not their only identity.  They wear the suit when they have to, otherwise it’s life as usual.
  2. A superhero typically has a hideaway or some kind of escape where they can shut it all out.
  3. Most superheroes have a support system and someone to talk their ideas and problems over with.
  4. They are visible in their community.
  5. They only share intimidate details of their life to those who are trusted and close to them.
  6. They each have LIMITATIONS, their own struggles and are not perfect (this is a biggie for me)

Then I went and dug a little deeper and wanted to know, what are the qualities of a Superhero?  I consistently came up with five characteristics.

  1. Selflessness
  2. Caring
  3. Patience
  4. Courage
  5. Modesty

For the children in our lives, we ARE their superhero and champions. When I think of these things, why would we not be?

  • I, for one, have many “hats”.  Being a mom and an advocate for my children is not my only identity.  It is a big part of who I am, but it’s not all of me.
  • It’s so important to have an escape, time to yourself and a moment to breathe.
  • Having a support system, whether it be family members, friends of a community of support is so important.  Sharing your challenges with like minded individuals and having someone to listen can be so refreshing.
  • Having a child with challenges means you are out there.  There are meetings to attend, people that need educating and lots of advocating for your child.
  • Being a parent doesn’t mean you have to be perfect.  Life is a long journey of learning.

I do have moments and challenges, there are times I am not sure what to do next. I have teary times and feel overwhelmed, but that’s what they are : Moments.

 

“Don’t forget that you are human.  It’s OK to have a meltdown.  Just don’t unpack and live there.  Cry it out and then refocus on where you are headed.” – Unknown

It may not feel as though you are anything special or superhuman, but to that little or big person in your life, you are their hero and their champion.

Perfect

Being Part of the Team

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When I was young, yes that was a while ago, we were outside playing all the time.  Many times there would be an impromptu game of california kickball, baseball, tag, hide-n-go seek etc.  We usually started our day hanging out with a friend of two and ended up meeting with others in the neighbourhood.  Unfortunately, with the way that things are today – most kids are on “play dates” or their devices.  They aren’t heading out the front door and off to the local park to see whose out playing and joining in.  If you drive by a park, so many of them are empty or perimeter lined with parents.

Park Playground

This is one thing that I have a hard time getting used too.  It’s so different from how I grew up and I feel that it’s a bit of a step backwards.  This, however, is the reality for our children.  Sure my son will ride his bike down to a friend’s house and hang out, but for the most part everything is all planned out.  Since there are very few spontaneous games being played outside, for our younger ones, we have moved on to organized sports.

Most of our children have a challenge or two that can affect their thinking and motor development and yes we still have them involved in some type of community activity.  Which activity really depends on the child and what he/she can handle and cope with.  Consistently our family is involved in dance, lacrosse, basketball, taekwondo, swimming, and parkour.  Notice I said “our family”.  So our children attend these activities, but we stay quite involved in them.

Many community sports and activities are run by volunteers.  These volunteers are often parents and sometimes others who dedicate their time and energy to help the success of the sport.  Sometimes they get a bit of “coaching training” and that’s about it.  The coaches and leaders get a group of kids that have varying abilities, attitudes and experience with the sport.  In knowing this, my husband and I try to set our kiddos up for success in these environments.  We spend a lot of time educating coaches and fellow parents, advocating for our kids and volunteering to help them become more successful.

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Each of our children have been involved in some kind of “team” sport, but the reality is, some of our children have a difficult time with this environment.  There is a lot that goes into “being part of a team”.

Here are a few things that happen on a team, that can cause some challenges for our kiddos:

  • Having a volunteer that has the best intentions but doesn’t understand our child’s invisible disabilities or thinks they know, but truly doesn’t
  • The coach giving direction, sometimes in a group setting and sometimes on the fly while the game is going on (can be confusing and hard to process)
  • Waiting with others that are waiting and wanting to get on the floor, field etc. to play, so lots of excited, impatient players
  • The game play, strategy and forward thinking.  Knowing what to do at the appropriate time.
  • Misunderstandings (happens between team mates and adult/child)

To help alleviate some of these challenges my husband and I stay very involved with their sports and activities.  My husband will often coach or assist with coaching.  I will often manage the team or help out with where I can.  We try to stay connected with the fellow parents and coaches.  We educate and give insight on who are child is, hoping that others will have some understanding and maybe more tolerance, if things go sideways.  For the most part, this is working.

We do have a child that just can’t navigate a team sport, but needs to be with other kids doing things.  Since the opportunity is not out at the local park or neighbourhood to just go and play,  we still have them involved in a community activity.  Instead of having them focus on a team sport, we have put them in a sport that focuses on individual success while in a group setting.

We have found that both dance and taekwondo give our child the ability to be involved with others, but work on things at their own pace.  They are still part of that team, but the focus is more on individual development.  Actually, each of our children have an activity that focuses on their individual success, even if they are part of another team sport.

I do struggle with the changes in regards to children and play and how much of their time is adult driven.  The days when your child could head to the park and play with whoever was there and available seems to be a distant memory.

There is so much value in getting out there and playing with others, even if it’s a play date, school or community activity.

Children playing in an outdoor playground

 

Ups and Downs of Technology

 

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Let’s talk technology.  Technology can be a great thing!  I love the fact that I don’t have to spend endless amounts of hours at the library, using the microfiche machine to find what I’m looking for.  We have an infinite supply of information (it seems like it) and many ways to cross reference the accuracy (microfiche may still be needed).

We have a variety of ways to stay connected with people from all different walks in our life.  We can keep up to date with friends and family that are far away more quickly than previous decades.  There are loads of great things about the advancements that we currently have.

I love the fact that I can write and share my experiences with others in all parts of the world.  It has been helpful to connect with people who are going through similar things and nice to meet with other like minded individuals.  If I was raising a family in the 80’s or 90’s, some of these connections may have not been made.  The support I receive may have been on a much smaller level.

In regards to homeschooling, it’s been great for me and our family.  The internet has loads of games, resources and people that share their creative ideas.  I can even find answers to math questions that I’m struggling to teach.  The children have been able to stay connected with peers in their classes and with their teacher.

I can go on about the benefits that we have because of the technological advances.  Like everything though, there is a flip side to this. The “Other side” of technology.  The side that I’d prefer to ignore, but am forced to face.  A new age and a new type of risk and threat to our children, and ourselves.

In our home, we spend a lot of time discussing all things electronic, whether it be the TV, game system, cell phone, tablet, computer or internet.  Technology has been one of the harder issues to parent and a continual learning curve.  Advice from previous generations on how to parent in this time is not available, as my parents have never parented with social media being at the forefront.

We try (note the word *try*) to limit the electronics to an hour a day, outside of schoolwork.  It doesn’t matter if they want to sit and watch a show, play on the iPad or a game on one of the gaming systems an hour is what they have.  Yes, they do get to use their devices when we are waiting for a doctor or another type of appointment and, dependent on the weather, on these days they may get a bit more.  For the most part, we aim to stick to that hour.  There is a whole world that exists beyond the screen and my husband and I feel it’s important for or children to experience that.

One of the hardest struggles that we have is the whole movement with social media, the “likes” and acceptance within these systems.  We have a teenager and a soon to be teenager in our home and these platforms for communication can become “EVERYTHING” to them.  How often do you go by a group of teenagers and all of their faces are down looking at that little screen, while their fingers are going a mile a minute?

Unfortunately, there are risks in the cyber world.  The screen seems to create a false sense of security.  As parents, we are always trying to find the best way to protect our children that allows them independence, but still safeguards them from the things they don’t understand and the things they shouldn’t see.  We have used a variety of parental controls on phones, iPads, computers etc..  Even though there is a lot of great programs out there, we still have to be an active part of what they are doing.  We still have to keep conversation and education going on a continual basis.  I, myself, have to keep educated and relevant with the ever changing technology world.  Let me tell you, I am “tech savvy”, but the offspring always tend to be one or two steps ahead.

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, privacy was a given. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for our children.  Privacy is something they are going to have to work at.

That screen creates a barrier and gives them a sense of safety and that safe feeling can cause such havoc for our kids.  Our children can be so trusting.  Teenagers tend to act impulsively, at least the ones in our house do, and don’t always have the best judgement.  If they have put something out there in the world and want to take it back it’s almost impossible, it’s never really gone.  Well, they are from our screen, but not from others.  An impulsive or bad decision can stick with them for a long time.  Once they turn off that phone or flip the computer screen down, they tend to think it ends there, but in reality it doesn’t.

No matter how much we educate, safe guard and keep communication open, they are kids.  Kids are going to explore, test boundaries and quite frankly have moments of doing the exact opposite of what we say.  That’s what kids do.  Teenagers and their ever changing brain…..I truly think they believe that they are invincible.  The “This would never happen to me” mentality I find is quite prevalent through this stage of life.

Cute sisters pouting while taking photos with smart phone at home

I know for myself when I was young, I did my own thing.  I tried stuff out and I knew that if my parents found out they would have had a fit.  I grew up in a time that once something was done and we moved on, we really could move on.  Most of us didn’t have a camera that we constantly carried around and there was no ongoing visual diary of mine or my friends’ lives.  I am thankful for this, really thankful!

Here are some strategies that we have used in regards to technology and our children: (please note that we have had challenges and hard lessons in regards to proper usage of social media and the internet and we have learned how to work through them).

  • the computer is in a common space where we can see it
  • we limit the amount of time that each child spends looking at a screen
  • we have ALL of their user names and passwords
  • we use parental controls
  • all electronic devices have a place to be in the evening
  • phones, iPads etc are not behind closed doors and never in the washroom
  • we frequent their contacts and question if we don’t know who someone is
  • their contacts must have real names, not just emojis or symbols
  • we continually talk and keep the dialogue open
  • we try to model good use of technology
  • we become their gauge if need be
  • ensure that they have all of their location settings turned off
  • we educate about their digital foot print – it’s important that they know what kind of trail they are leaving behind
  • yes, I will spot check and read their texts.  We are open about this and have a contract between us and them, if they have a phone.

I think that the technology aspect to life has many benefits and has made areas in our lives simpler and yet more complicated.  Our generation definitely face new challenges in regards to parenting.

Here are some links that I have found helpful for me and our children:

Protect Kids Online

Get Cyber Safe

Canada’s National Tipline

Media Smarts

I always welcome comments.  Please share your experiences or strategies on how you navigate through the world of technology in your home.  I love to learn and hear what others are doing.

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Clutter and Chaos

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There is a saying: “Clutter in your physical surroundings will clutter your mind and spirit.”  In our case, having children that struggle with a nonverbal disability and a brain based disorder, this statement would hold true.

I find that when their environment is disorganized or cluttered, they have a harder time coping and calming.

This past weekend, we decided to clear out our youngest son’s room.  His room wasn’t “messy”, it just had many toys, stuffies, and other items in it.  Visually there was a lot going on.  He has a hard time sleeping at best and these items were only adding to the challenge.  His bedroom could be a perfect get away for him.  It could be a space that would be calming, but with all of his treasures in there, it would be a challenge.  So off to work we went with simplifying his space.

We removed all of his toys.  This was also a good time for us to declutter his collection.  We had a ‘keep’, ‘donate’ and throw away bin.  We kept him an active part of this process and honoured his decisions.  We created a playroom for the kids.  The shelving and toys from his bedroom are now homed in the playroom.  His room has a bed, nightstand, dresser, a few stuffed animals, books and a comfy chair for reading.

This was a big change, as he’s always had his toys in his room.  I actually felt guilty about removing these items, but after seeing the outcome for him, those feeling quickly disappeared.  He actually has shown relief.  His response was “Whew this feels so much better, I like it!”  We’ve actually seen a shift, like he has a weight lifted.  When he’s upset, he will go up to his room to calm down.  It is now a place that encourages a sense of inner calm.

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I know for myself, when the house gets cluttered up or messy, I feel unsettled.  I’m not talking about the one counter that ALWAYS seems to have clutter on it, but an overall feeling.  If things in our life are busy or there is a larger amount of stress, the first thing to go on my list, is the housework.  Often times when I feel chaotic myself, the environment around me can also reflect that.  In knowing this, it is so important for us to help our children manage their own space.  Their little minds are already so busy with learning and managing the day to day tasks.  When their own space gets cluttered up and messy, they can’t manage it.

We see this with our daughter.  If her space gets messy she can not cope.  This is a challenge because, well, she’s a teenager.  (Teenagers are already in a chaotic mindset – haha.)  We find that when she starts to get disorganized, she becomes more emotional.  So instead of waiting for her room to get to that state, we help her daily.  We gently remind her, or in her opinion “nag her”, about putting things away.  We help her keep her room organized in a way that makes sense to her, so she knows where to put and find things.  Since we have been able to do this with her, she also has a space that she likes to be in and finds it more of a calm place to be.

Clutter is found in so many shapes and sizes. We can find it on our kitchen tables, under our beds, in our cars, and in our heads. ~Katrina Mayer

 

 

Turbulent Transitions

Yes, we are homeschoolers, well for the most part.  My daughter is now in grade 12 and is in the public system and my sons do a blended approach.  They go to class 2 days a week.

With the new school year here, we are now at a new beginning.  New beginnings bring new routines and a shift in the “Norm”.  Summer was great and though we keep most of our routines the same, no matter what season we’re in, there’s still differences of expectations and responsibilities.  No, we didn’t do official school work in the summer, I thought I was going to keep up with some math facts, but we had other things on the go – like the beach.

The day has arrived and we are starting the new routine.  Our littlest and our oldest have the most difficult time with changes.  Whether the changes is a good one or not, it’s still a change.

I often think of these times like turbulence on an airplane, everyone reacts a bit differently.  Some go quiet and hang on for dear life, some cry and rock, some scream, some obsessively talk and others aren’t affected at all.  Once the turbulence has subsided, most are thankful and are happy to move forward smoothly.  Yes, there are still bumps here and there and are expected.

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So what did the first day bring for us?  Turbulence for sure. I knew this was coming up, so I mentally prepared myself for it and put in as many strategies as possible before the shift.  Each person reacts differently.  With the little one, it was a lot of “rude”, throwing out insults, running to his room, refusing to do the “regular” routine things.  For my older, the day went great, until it was time to make lunch, prepare for bed and get ready for the next day.  They each experience the back to school stress, anxiety and change in routine.

Let’s be honest here, I also had to prepare myself for this transition.  I have to remind myself what to expect and remember that it’s their brains that are overwhelmed.  The behaviours aren’t easy and I know that they are trying.  My little guy said yesterday, “Sorry Mom, that was a very bad moment, I’ll try for a better afternoon.”  I know buddy and he did try, but it was still rough.  I was still happy to see bedtime come and put this one down as a day complete.

We keep the environment is as predictable as possible.  I did my best to prepare them for the change – ( not doing this too early or there’d be other challenges).  I have made visuals for everything, (during my midnight madness)!

  • The “shape of the day” schedule
  • Steps for the morning
  • Steps for the evening and
  • I also verbally remind them.

It is a lot and will we have to continue this level of support forever?  No, it eases up once the routine and transition has settled and we’re through the bumpy part.  Our children always need predictability and routine, especially if we want to set them up for success, but once things settle the independence will come back.  They will be able to regulate and I won’t have to be as ON as I am now.

We, as parents, have to be so ‘ON’ during these times that time to myself is a bit harder.  At the moment I need to be more available to them, I have to be their external brain and help navigate through the day.  I cherish the quiet moments that bed time brings and prepare for the next day.  Once we get through this change, my husband and I will go to a movie.

I hope transition is going well for you and your littles.  I’d love to hear strategies that you use or how you get through the rougher patches.  Comments and emails are always welcome.

 

School At Home

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My husband and I talked about a lot of parenting “things” when we were first together.  We discussed all about how we raise our children, what kind of parents we wanted to be and about “their” education.  As most of us know, our “pre-parenting” times and ideals often change.  You become more realistic and have a greater appreciation for your fellow parental posse. One thing that we never discussed, was schooling at home.  So when this idea came up, it was a very foreign and an unsettling concept for me.  Yes, I did work in a school setting already, my whole career has been working with children and with individuals that had challenges, but does that make me qualified to do this from home?Like I said, we had never really thought of the homeschool environment before.  This was kind of sprung upon us.  My daughter has a few challenges and one of them is anxiety.  The school environment had become so overwhelming and a place for many triggers, that this decision was based on a reaction to what was best for her at the time.

We had gotten her to a comfortable place with school and things were going well until grade 5.  Grade 5 is when we had a teacher that was reading different psychology books.  Hey, I’m all for further education, but she had tried a few strategies on our child that actually had sent her back a couple of years in her progress!  After many exhaustive attempts to work with the school, our counsellor at the time had advise us, for her our well being, that homeschooling may be what we want to look into.  So our adventure began.  I still had one in kindergarten and a baby at home and we pulled her out of school in Spring.  It gave us a bit of time to figure out new schedules and routines before grade 6 started in the fall.

We are not “traditional” homeschoolers, we are more doing school at home.  I like to think of it as the best of both worlds.  We have a teacher that oversees the program, but we have flexibility with how their learning is done and presented.

My older son completed school up to grade 2, when we made a decision to do school at home for him.  This decision was not based on the same issues that we had with our daughter, but we realized he needed something more.  He needed to be challenged more than what could be provided for him.  He is a fast kid, in all aspects of the word.  He moves fast, whips through activities and learns fast.  He is a goer.  In school he would complete tasks very quickly and become bored.  What happens when an ADHD boy has nothing much to do in the classroom?  He finds stuff to do and he sure did.  He made wonderful things out of pencils, elastic, erasers, felts, staples etc.  We were blessed with a wonderful teacher that would try her best to provide him other things to do.  She used these “talents” in his daily activities, but when we had an opportunity for him to do project based multiage learning, we took it.  Both of the older children were attending a program 2 days a week and then 3 days at home for schooling.

When it was time for the littlest one to go to school, the decision was easy for us.  We were already homeschooling 2, he had some learning challenges of his own, so we decided to go right into the school at home environment.  We were able to access funds for a full time educational assistant for the 2 days that he attended class and have occupational therapy once a month.  So far it’s been a good option for him.

Each year, well even through the year, I am constantly evaluating whether or not this is the right fit for each child.  We don’t homeschool because I don’t like the school system.  We homeschool because it’s what’s best for them at this moment.  This could change, depending on what they need and I’m OK with that.  Actually it changed for our daughter.  She went back into the public system last year (Grade 11) and has done very well.  This change was so needed for her and she was ready to take on this new challenge.  There has been enough time and lots of work that has gotten her to this point, but here she is!  She will be graduating this school year.  EEK!!

Many people ask us about our decision to school at home.  I often hear:

“I could never do that, you must have lots of patience.  It takes a special person to homeschool.” ‘OR’  “You can do this because you worked in the school system, I would never know what to do for them.” My response… Um, no, nothing miraculous here, it’s what was best for our children.  I’m sure most parents want what’s best for their child and if homeschool was that option, they would take it too.”

The other comment is:

“What about socialization, aren’t they going to be isolated?”

Actually no, isolation is not an issue.  They have many other activities and friends in the neighbourhood just like everyone else.  They get lots of opportunity to socialize and lots of time to focus on their learning.  They are pretty confident and outgoing people.  We got it covered.

Homeschooling may not be for everyone and it’s one aspect of what we do for our children.  Our children change, life changes and their needs change too. What ever decisions you make for your child and family is the right one and if it isn’t, you can change that too.

 

 

 

Tomato Plant

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So what does a tomato plant have to do with everyday parenting?  Well, for me quite a bit.

My littlest one LOVES cherry tomatoes, he’ll pretty much eat them everyday. At the beginning of summer, when I was shopping at Costco, we browsed their outdoor plant selection.  I bought a few hanging baskets for the house and our little guy spotted  the cherry tomato plants.  He asked and begged to have this plant.  You have to understand, I am not a gardener, I barely keep my hanging baskets alive.  I have house plants that I’m celebrating about because they have been doing well and I have had them for 3 months! Knowing how much he loves cherry tomatoes, how could I not.  Homebound that little plant went.

At home and throughout the summer, sometimes, it would get looked after really well.  We would water it and fertilize it.  Other times it would not get much looking after at all, we were busy or I would forget about it.  It could get pretty wilty and dry looking, at times I thought it really wasn’t going to make it. We would save it and look after it again and it all looked fine.  It even ended up yielding some tomatoes!  My little guy was so excited that it had these bright, beautiful cherry tomatoes on it that he was able to pick.

Here is the kicker, yes it had lots of tomatoes and they looked beautiful, but they tasted awful.  They were bitter and truly were not edible.  Thankfully he wasn’t too upset, he realized why they weren’t that great.   He said, “Mom maybe we can try with another plant next year and we’ll look after it better.”  Yes good idea, we’ll try again and yes we will look after it.  It was a good lesson for us, but I probably learned the most.  This is where the parenting part comes in.

Our children have invisible disabilities.  Our family was made through adoption and these little people had a hard start to life.  In the beginning before they came home to their foster parents and before they came home to us, their care was less than ideal.  As they were growing and developing, even in utero, they were not getting what they needed.  They were being nourished the wrong way, the care the birth mom was needing was not happening.  One of our children came home as an older child and suffered through neglect and the lack of basic care.  Children are not exactly like tomatoes, but on the outside you really wouldn’t know what they are dealing with on the inside.  This hard start to life has an impact on them.

I saw the result of us not giving the tomato plant what it needed, which really put an impact on how I viewed what our children have gone through.  People have a bit more layers than a tomato, but it really made me realize that the look of something can be so deceiving.

I am a big advocate and educator for our children, but even I, myself lose sight of what is lying underneath.  When everything seems fine and looks fine, it’s hard to expect different.  The issues that these guys face are under the surface, at a brain based level and difficult to see.

My apologies to the tomato plant for being a challenged gardner, but thank you so much for giving me another opportunity to learn.

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Yes, I’m important too!

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I love my family.  I am so thankful to be the mother of my three children and the wife of my husband.  I am blessed with lots of people and family in our lives.  My husband and I have been able to work things out so I could come home from work and focus on our family.  Yes, times can be hard and we have our fair share of challenges.  Raising little human beings to become the best they can be is a big task in itself, then you add their personal challenges on top of that and ….

I used to try to be that “perfect” mom, I can do it all.  I was always doing, and doing to the max, striving for the top of everything.  It was exhausting! I had a lot of “should be” moments.  “I should be more patient”, “I should be volunteering more”, “I should be doing something more” it could be never ending.  I was striving for something that was never really attainable, the “Pinterest Perfect Life“.  This usually consisted of trying for the best birthday and dinner parties, the well put together “shared snack at preschool”, the creative and beautiful back to school gifts (that took hours): the list could go on.

I’m not saying that I don’t want things in life to be good, of course I do, but I have changed my perspective.  There are so many quotes and inspirational sayings flooding the internet about perfection and how the imperfect is the reality.

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Forgiveness has been the best medicine that I could have prescribed myself.  It has been so freeing.  I know that I am doing my best and have forgiven myself for the mistakes that I make.  Actually, I know I’m going to make them and I’m OK with that.

Before I was doing all of the time, doing for others, trying to keep up with everything, that I actually forgot to do for myself.  I was tired, sometimes grumpy and feeling less than.  It’s amazing when you put yourself as a priority how much things change around you.  I started to see the value in putting myself first.  I can actually do more for others.  I have become a better mom, wife and friend just by doing a bit for me first.  Self care is not selfish.  In order for me to be present and at my best, I need to recharge and fill up so I can share with others.

As parents, it feels as though we are always on.  We are problem solvers, taxi drivers, educators, caregivers, housekeepers, referees, partners and so on.

I have come to realize that self care is one of the most important things I can do, not only for myself, but for the people in my life too.

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The moments I take for myself have become valuable to me.  Everyone will have a different way that they recharge and different self care strategies, but for me I enjoy just being me.  I like quiet moments where I don’t have to answer anything (phones, questions, the door etc.)  So I take those moments when I can, even if it’s in the middle of the night when everyone is sleeping.

I have become a much healthier person. I eat better and exercise.  I am very social too, so going to a class to exercise really helps my body and my mind.  It also helps me to have a time set aside for me.  Everyone knows that I’m out, it’s on the calendar and it’s mine.

I enjoy reading books and watching movies.  If the kids are at an event, I might arrive early for pick up and read in the car before heading in to get them.  I go to movies with my family and sometimes I go just with a friend.

I also have a person, outside of my husband.  It is so nice to have someone that you can talk to, complain to, unload the crazy and share with and not have to worry about any judgements.  I am so thankful to have a person.

I do take moments to myself when I’m with the kids and have a sign to let the kids know that, unless there is a true emergency, I’m not available.  We all need time outs, even if it’s just for 15 minutes.  It good for the kids to see the importance of self care, setting limits and me looking after myself.  It will teach them to set their own limits later in life and to take time if they need it.

I’d love to hear from you and what you do for self care, please feel free to leave a comment below or to send me a message.

One on One Time

Recently, my older son and I have just returned from a four day trip.  He was playing in a tournament and we decided that it would be good for just one parent and him to go.  Yay for a mom trip and yay for warm weather, sandy beaches and other moms to socialize with!

Since returning home from our small adventure, I realized how important it is to have this time with just one child.  Okay, maybe not flying away somewhere, but a small overnight trip or out for the day and having some sibling free time just for them.  And, I guess, it doesn’t always have to be with me, dad can have a turn too.

Everyday life here is busy.  We have our day to day routines, therapies and classes.  Every day there are varying behaviours and up and down moments.

The whole experience of going away and doing something with just one child was completely different then having all five of us on this trip.  It was a nice break for me and a good time for him.  I was able to focus on things just for him and had time to myself within that.  It gave both of us a break from the everyday life and to enjoy something different together.

I know who all my children are and their personalities, but it was so good to get the opportunity to really listen to his conversations.  I was able to focus on his thoughts, ideas and other opinions all without sibling interruption.  He was able to get my undivided attention.  We were able to go do a few activities that he wanted to do, all without negotiation.  It was a good reprieve for him from the day to day busyness of our life.

He did miss dad, of course, and it gave the siblings some time to miss each other (hmm, not too sure if this happened, but it sounds good in theory).

I was able to see my child in a bit of a different light and we got to relax a bit together.  I even was able to have alone time when he went to bed, which was golden!!  Since we were on a “team trip”, it was nice to socialize a bit with other parents AFTER bedtime.

I learned so much from having this time with one.  One of the biggest things was that while I need time to myself and to make sure I keep up with self care for my own sanity, the siblings also need time from each other.

We do many fun things as a family and we are out and about often, but they don’t have much time on their own with one of us.  I’m not saying that we are going to do this weekly, but maybe once a month each of them could spend a day focused all on them.  Giving one time to shine and have a spotlight moment from mom or dad.  I guess we’ll put this in place and see how it goes!

Stage not age

Wouldn’t it be nice if each child came with their own instruction manual?  One that would change with the child, a constant relevant reference?  If that was available, I would sign up to get one.  I’d even pay for an update each time it came out.  The reality is, there is no manual.  What works for one child is not necessarily what we should do for the others.  In fact, we are parenting 3 children and each are their own person.

Parenting is a balancing act and not equal,  each child is an individual with unique needs.  Each have their own perceptions, thoughts, feelings and stress level.  They all have their own interests, talents and ways that they shine.

In knowing that each child is their own little unique being, it would only be fair to parent them to who they are and where they are at.  Which is why in our household we parent to “stage” not age, thanks to my daughter’s counsellor for giving us the wording for how we parent.

In everyday life our children can present at varying developmental levels and ages.  Some times they are age appropriate, other times they act younger and then there are moments when they are more mature.  It’s not a constant upward progression.  It’s definitely more like hills and valleys if you were to chart it.  There are so many factors that influence their developmental age throughout the day.  Some of these influences are:

  • How well they slept
  • What have they eaten
  • Hormones
  • Stress Level
  • Upcoming Events
  • If they are triggered
  • Their understanding at that moment
  • and more

So to be fair to them, it’s best that we parent at the level that is being presented.  What can they handle at that moment.  I try to meet them where they are at, parenting the stage that they are in.  If their brain is at a younger level, parenting them with higher expectations will bring more frustration for all involved. This is quite tricky, though.

When I lose sight of their individual abilities or the stage they are in at that moment, which happens, and parent to the chronological age I find that there is a lot more behaviour.  There tends to be an unfairness in expectation for them.  If our can’t handle much in that moment and we are giving them a too much responsibility, they cannot meet that expectation.  It can look as though they are being defiant, argumentative and not listening, but are actually unable, at that moment, to cope with what is being asked.  Skills and responsibilities that they could have done that morning or the day before may not be what they can handle now in this moment.

Then there is the issue of the younger ones surpassing the older ones.  The abilities are not the same and so the expectation is also different.  This sometimes creates feelings that things are unfair, but really they’re not.  It’s just that they’re not there yet.   Life and learning are not linear, its a process, each of one them can do things when its right for them and when they are ready.  Unfortunately, they often equate age with the ability to do things.

I get asked all the time by our children, “How old to I have to be to play this game?  How old do I have to be to go to the mall?  How old do I have to be to watch such and such show?”  They really want me to put an age on when they will be “old enough” to do certain things.  In my opinion a rating on a TV show, game or movie is a guideline, not permission to watch or play it.  They could be emotionally ready for it earlier or they may have to wait a bit.

They really want that end point, knowing exactly when, which is understandable.  In reality, this is something that I can’t predict.  My youngest often will ask when he can do things  “Tell me when I can do ‘_________’ and don’t give me the stage not age answer either!”  I will usually respond with, well when your 12 (or some other age), we’ll see how things are, but not right now, or sometimes to their surprise we’ll say let’s try it and see how you do!

I try to celebrate what they can do now and what they do well.  I look for ways to give them each the opportunity to do the things that they shine at.   I think it’s really important for them to be as independent as possible, seeing that they are capable and successful because actually, they are!

It’s so hard for me to be mindful about these things all of the time and I have had to backtrack and try again, but I try my best.  This parenting gig can be exhausting and it’s ever changing.  There is never one answer on how to parent and I have yet to find an “Easy” button that really works.  Some days are smoother than others and some are more of a challenge.  None of our children came with their own instruction manual, not for their typical behaviours nor for their exceptionalities. We parent to each individual and do what we feel is the best for them.

I do have to say, that these little people have brought so much to my life.  Yes, challenges, but a whole lot of goodness and laughter too.  A good portion of these challenging moments turn into good stories for later.  I have also had an opportunity to meet a great network of people that I wouldn’t have otherwise known and for these things I’m thankful!

 

Overloaded

Today was one of those days.  Well actually, overall it was a good day.  Both of my boys went to camp and my daughter was in summer school.  I was able to spend a WHOLE day with my best friend.  I so needed this girlfriend time.  We had a fantastic day shopping, looking through stores and taking our time.  For that I am thankful.

Then, it was pick up time.  My little one had a bit of an up and down day at camp.  He’s been going everyday since Monday, so it’s expected that one of those days will be a bit more challenging.  Even though his day was up and down, the camp leaders said he was very responsive and cooperative – another win!  Then we arrived home.  His safe place.  This is where it turns into one of those days.  I should actually rephrase this to one of those moments, as the rest of the day was fairly good and the evening after taekwondo class was much better.

When we arrived home, he fell apart.  The transition from the car to the foyer of the house was not easy, he couldn’t carry his backpack, it’s too much and too heavy for him.  He wasn’t able to unpack his backpack and the question is “Mom, why don’t you just do it?  You are the one that wants it done anyway.”  No pleases, no thank yous, just orders.

Quickly I’m scrambling in my brain on how to diffuse the situation, clearly he is not able to regulate.  So I suggest a snack maybe he was a little hangry.   This was obviously the WRONG option for him.  Then I gave space, which was also the WRONG option for him.  He finally decided to go up to his room get changed into his uniform, where all seemed reasonably quiet and calm. Then came downstairs.  I was busying myself in the kitchen and he was trying to put on his taekwondo belt and having a bit of a hard time.  I have tried but still have no idea how to tie this belt, so when I noticed he was struggling I gingerly suggested that maybe he could tie it when he got to class.

“Remember, you don’t like how it feels when you wear it in the car?”

That did it for him, he was not going to class because I don’t have confidence that he can tie it.  Anything that I said from that point was taken as negative.  He was upset and in his mind I was not supporting him.  At one point he said that me talking is causing him to be more upset, but when I would get quiet he would say that I was ignoring him and don’t care enough to help.

Yes, this is FASD and one overloaded brain.  What was the trigger to this? At that moment I was not sure, he’s was not sure.

I am happy to say that we don’t have many times when we don’t know the trigger, most of the time it has to do with a sensory issue, feeling rushed or some other big feelings that rise up.  We are also lucky to be raising a little guy with lots of self awareness and one who has the ability to let us know what he feels, whether we want to hear it or not.

So in this moment, where I can do nothing right for him and his brain is just frazzled, I did what I felt was best.  I kept to routine.  Yes, he was still loud and angry.  He still didn’t have the most smooth transition, but we did it.  We moved on from the moment in the house and now we are in the car, it took about 40 minutes for a 5 minute transition, but that’s ok.  I allowed him to be upset, say his piece (and then some) and get things together  to the best of his ability during that time.  I tried my best to keep things simple and to have the environment as calm as possible.

The drive to his class started out with him speaking rudely and slowly calming down.  Just before we arrived at the taekwondo school, he was starting to talk.  He talked about his day at camp and the fun things he did and then he talked about what some of the other kids had said.

They played a game, would you rather and one of the questions was “Would you rather play with (my son) or would you rather play with (another boy)?  He told me that “all” the other kids said the other boy and feels no one likes him.  I know this is most likely not true, but it is his perception.  When I drop him off and pick him up, he’s always with a group of friends.  He has a circle of friends that understand him and want to play with him in our day to day life.  But in that moment and the moments to follow he felt rejected.  He was hurt and now struggling with the simple day to day tasks and routine.  His brain could not cope with one more thing and was very reactive.  Had I got upset over his behaviour and dealt with things differently, that rejection would have continued and been bigger.  Instead of us getting out of the car, where he apologized for being so rude, and starting his class with a big hug and kiss, it could have carried on to the next activity.

It is difficult to be centred in those times and to see past the behaviours when they are big, the words coming at you are hurtful and it seems like whatever you do is not helping.  I spent quite a bit of my brain space this afternoon keeping myself calm, using mediation techniques and breathing.  I made a phone call to my husband just to get a bit of a reprieve, not to really talk about anything.

The rest of the evening had gone much better for him because he was able to talk when he was ready and was able to process.  We had dinner, conversation, he had a nice bath, a quiet activity and then off to bed, all without incident.

This day is a good reminder for myself that the behaviour I see is usually due to something out of our control and his. It is also a good reminder on how important it is to take care of myself.  I had a great day with my best friend and was recharged and feeling good. Had I been overwhelmed and reacted to his behaviour, the rest of the evening would have been a whole different story.

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Love wanted

If you have been reading my blog posts, you will know that we have 3 children by adoption, all with varying invisible disabilities.  One of our children has been affected by childhood trauma. Before they arrived in our lives and came home to us, they had years of experiences that we will never have complete knowledge about.  Even though we don’t really know what life was like for them, we do know a little bit and we are living with the side effects of those early traumatic experiences.

Having a child affected by trauma has taught me more than I ever thought, it has challenged me more than I realized I’d be able to handle and has given me insight and a better understanding of other people’s lives, that I otherwise would not have had.  It has been one of the more challenging things I have done thus far. At times, I forget.  I forget that the behaviours are symptoms and not a choice.  I forget that reactions are due to the brain’s inability to process and function in a typical way.

Trauma directly affects the brain and how it develops.  It has many symptoms. Some of these may include:

  • focusing issues
  • learning difficulties
  • poor self regulation
  • emotional dysregulation
  • psychological health issues
  • memory problems
  • poor time management and organization
  • difficulty with social skills and building relationships
  • hypersensitive stress response
  • easily overwhelmed
  • behavioural problems

Every child is different, but for ours, the above list is definitely what we see on a continual basis.

Parenting a child with these challenges has not been an easy task for me.  There is no “magic” method or one simple answer on how to help them move beyond trauma.  My way of thinking has been blown out of the water.  I believed with consistency, routine, predictability, a safe environment and lots of love many of these challenges that they face would be minimized and that daily life would become easier for them.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  These symptoms are still there after 12 years of being home with us.  The triggers, fears, anxieties are still a part or our child’s life.  Sometimes we are prepared for what is coming, but often we are not.  Life is so up and down for them.  We do see improvement, but in other ways.  For example, maybe the length of time of the dysregulation has minimized or the duration between the outbursts has lengthened.  Still in those challenging moments, it’s hard.  It’s hard for us as parents and it’s hard for the siblings.  I’m sure it’s hard for them too, actually I know it is.

As the adults and parents, we have to help regulate the brain, essentially become their “external” brain and help them with the moments of difficulty.  When reading about strategies and talking with others in regards to supporting our child, it all sounds manageable.  To a point it is, but we are human too and it’s that humanity that also trips us up.  So what do you do when your own brain is overwhelmed?  How do you organize life when around you, you’re in a constant tornado of emotional disorganization?

Often times our child seems as though they are constantly pushing us away, but wanting us to be there too (there is typical behaviour in there too, teen brain is a whole other thing).

Love is so wanted, but that very feeling of love is a trigger.  At times this feeling can be handled better than others.  Our child is continually struggling with acceptance and trying to fill a “void” that will never get filled, not by anything external.  They are still waiting for us to give up.  Some of their fears and behaviours from the fear actually starts a spiral to make this become a reality.  They don’t want to be rejected, disconnected  or unloved and our child actually sabotages moments where they feel connected, affection or acceptance from us.  The fear of losing this becomes the trigger.  The trigger is set due to early trauma that we had no control over.

So how DO we handle this.

Forgiveness  ……….  I would have to say this is one of the biggest things.  Forgiveness for their birth parent’s own shortcomings, to ourselves and our human moments and for the behaviours that the child themselves display.

In reality, this is not a smooth process.  I have lots of knowledge, great support and family.  I still struggle through some of these behavioural symptoms.  It’s hard to go through the day to day whirlwind and not be affected by it.  Which is one of the reasons I try to keep my days chunked into moments.  Moments come and go quickly but days and weeks don’t.  So if this moment is tough, how can I change it for the next.

Here are some things that I do to help me be a better parent.

  • I talk, talking for me is when I do my best brainstorming.  I find I have lots of answers and solutions already within myself, but to process those I need a listening ear.
  • I have routine in the home, life is much better for all when there is some predictability.
  • I take care of myself, which means, yes sometimes I’m first.  I workout, shop for new clothes, play on the computer and sometimes go out with a girlfriend.
  • I meditate and diffuse essential oils and try to engage in other things that help keep me centred.
  • I buy fresh flowers for the home weekly.
  • I go on dates with my husband.
  • I stay involved.
  • I don’t compare my life or my children with others and their lives.
  • I’m honest.
  • Now, I blog!

We are very fortunate to have many people in our lives that support us in all different ways.  We have people that will talk things through with us and our children, we have people who will lighten the load and take over for a bit, we have family and we have Dr.’s that listen (so important).  I truly believe it takes a village to raise a child.  In our children’s case, the more people that love them, the safer and more successful they will be.

Things are not perfect, everyday is a new day.  We set up for success and try to learn from the setbacks.

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