Tag Archives: advice

Theresa van Gessel

25/07/2015

If you want to get me cranky, protective and outraged, give one of these statements a try when you are next talking to me.  Even better, use most of them in one conversation, and do it in front of my son.  That is a sure fired way to ensure that I will discount your helpful suggestions on how I can better do my job as his mother.  (It will also 100% guarantee that I will write a blog post about it.)

1. He just needs to fit in with everyone else

You think?  Wouldn’t it be great if just telling him to fit in with everyone else was the answer.  Wouldn’t it be great if we were all cut from the same mould and could fit into the designated slot in life that you think we should fit into.  Oh, and while we are at it, thank you for telling me, after knowing him for a very short time, how you know what he ‘needs’.  Because up until now, while I have been dealing with schools, psychiatrists, paediatricians, psychologists, police, social workers and the government, it never occurred to me that I could solve all of this by telling him to fit in.

Fitting in.  What does that look like?  Is that where he doesn’t say anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, doesn’t question whether something is fair or not, doesn’t overreact when he feels he is treated unfairly, and doesn’t interrupt your vision of what your life should look like?  Wouldn’t it be nice if he did fit in.  Did it ever occur to you that perhaps all he wants himself is to fit in.  To not be the kid who can’t cope with too much noise, or with not being perfect at something the first time he tries, who can’t understand why other kids don’t get his sense of humour, who worries that other kids don’t like him because he gets angry when he is overwhelmed.  To be ‘normal’.why fit in when you were born to stand

Guess what?  I don’t want him to fit in.  If he fitted in, in the way that you want him to, he would lose himself, and all the good things that go with being him.  His awesome sense of the ridiculous, his ability to give hugs just at the right time, his sharp mind and amazing strategies, and the endless possibilities that are open before him because he has to work so much harder than everyone else to do the same things that other kids in his class do with ease.

I'm beautiful in my way'Cause God makes (2)

2. He is just doing this to get attention

Of course he is!  What kid climbs an electricity pole in the middle of winter and declares that he won’t come down, in order not to get attention?  What kid rings his mother who is many hours drive away and threatens to kill himself, in order not to get attention?

The question is not whether he wants attention, it is WHY he wants attention.  What overloading of his senses, his ability to cope, his sense of fairness has happened that is causing him to act in such an extreme way?  And what can we do to help him to see that he is loved, supported, and cherished, so that he doesn’t need to behave in this way in order to get our attention.

3. He needs to understand how this makes (insert name of choice) feel

Ouch.  There it is again.  What he ‘needs’ to do.  If only he can rewire his brain circuits so that he understands other people’s emotions clearly, and take them into account when those people are contributing to his need to seek attention, then everything will be okay.  You will love him if he understands how his behaviour is affecting you.

Maybe, just maybe, you might like to think about how an 8 year old kid sees the world.  Forget whether he has special needs or not – most 8 year old kids are still fairly egocentric in their actions.  Telling him to take your feelings into account and to stop this behaviour is not, unfortunately, a magic cure-all.  If it was then I would be rich, having saved many thousands of dollars on specialists because I could have taken your advice for free.

4. He needs to understand the consequence of his actions

Uh-huh.  Again, what he ‘needs’ to do.  Because if he can just think about what his behaviour is doing, then he will stop it, straight away.  Can I remind you again, using small words, that this boy is 8 years old.  He doesn’t like hurting people.  He doesn’t like feeling hurt.  He doesn’t like constantly stumbling through life, letting people down, making mistakes.  If he could, at this age, think of the consequences of his actions and therefore change his actions, don’t you think he would?

5.  He is going to have a miserable life if he doesn’t start to improve his behaviour

Grrrrrrr…….how dare you presume to tell my son what his life is going to be like. And even worse, how dare you tell him that his life will be bad.  He believes the things that adults tell him.  Ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy?  And quite apart from my emotive response to how an adult can be so cruel to a child, how on earth do you know what his life is going to be like?  Have you seen the amazing steps he has taken over the last couple of years?  Do you know just how bad things were 3 years ago?  Do you know how much work and support I put into ensuring that in fact he has a wonderful future ahead of him, and how much he looks to the positive future now? And finally, do you honestly think that this is his choice?!  What on earth is he hoping to gain by ‘choosing’ to behave in this way, particularly when not behaving in this way has so many more rewards!

 

Lead by exampleAnd finally – don’t ever, whether a child has special needs or not, talk about that child in such a way in front of him or her.  It is cruel.  And slightly ironic.  While you are so busy telling me that he needs to control himself, behave better, understand the consequences of his actions, you are doing the exact opposite.  Perhaps leading by example would be a better way to help him.

Vent over!  Regular programming will resume shortly!

A small post-script.  If you think you recognise yourself in this post, you probably do.  (And we may never have met.)

 

6 ways to help you bounce back when you are worn out

Over the last few weeks I have recognised that I am getting worn out.  Again.  (This may be the reason for my more thought provoking posts recently, now that I come to think of it!)  Between caring for my children, dealing with the mountains of paperwork that seem to accompany every decision about my son, and my income, and trying to be business like about my ‘business’, things have started to slip.  And, as I said in my post yesterday, it is important to be kind to yourself.

How do you bounce back when you are worn out?

Some of the things that I have found that work include:

1. Keep things simple.  Cancel those social appointments that you are dreading, don’t schedule any complex arrangements, and just focus on the basics.  Looking after you and yours is more important than obligations to friends.  Good friends will understand that this is temporary and that you will be back on deck soon.

Fresh is best |a little bird made me

2. Eat healthy food.  Instead of reaching for the easy peanut butter sandwich, or cheese and crackers, take a few extra minutes to eat some fresh food – a salad sandwich, a fruit platter, or even just grab a banana instead of something processed and sugary.

3. Exercise.  I know – the last thing you want to do when you are tired and worn out is to exercise.  I am not talking about a full cardio work out followed by a boxing class (although if that is your thing go for it!).  I find that even just taking a walk around the block is often enough to get things moving again, to lift your energy levels and your spirits.  Doing a bit more active exercise helps even more!M O V E

4. Rest.  Actually stop, put your feet up, and rest.  Not work on your laptop or tablet.  Rest.  Maybe read a novel, listen to some music, or just be at peace for a few minutes.  My personal favourite?  Lying in a hammock. (Note to self.  Spring is here.  Set the hammock up.  Soon!)

5. Let go of some of your responsibilities.  This is the hardest one for me.  I love sewing, creating, designing, making.  I also love earning some income from it.  But it takes all my focus, and at the moment I need to give the children a bit more focus, so sewing has to take a back seat.  This is hard, but I know it isn’t forever – it may be for a day or two, or for a week or two, but it will all be there waiting for me when I have time and head-space to walk into my sewing room and pick up where I left off.

6. Do something different.  You might remember my favourite graphic from a post a couple of weeks ago.   5 things I learned about divorce|a little bird made meI love this.  It reminds me that if we are in a rut, with tired children, whinging mother, etc, then in order for me to change that, I need to change something I am doing.  Ideas that have worked well in the past include a picnic dinner as a surprise, having a family movie night in the middle of the week, letting the kids build a fort and live in it for a day – even though they use a whole room and insist on keeping it there for days!

What helps you to bounce back when you are getting run down or worn out?

5 things I learned about divorce|a little bird made me

5 things I have learned about divorce

My marriage ended 5 1/2 years ago when my husband announced, via email, that he ‘couldn’t do this anymore’.  At the time I truly had not seen it coming.  Looking back I can see that the marriage was doomed.  Ah the wisdom of hindsight.

Since then I have been through the ups and downs and ins and outs of divorce.  While I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and while my first question to anyone I meet who tells me that they are thinking of leaving their partner is “Is there any way you can fix this?” there are a few things I have learned along the way that might help someone else going through separation and divorce, particularly if there are children involved.  I am not an expert, these are my personal experiences and learnings, but they seem, from discussion with friends, to be universal.

5 things I learned about divorce|a little bird made me

1. The grief process following divorce is the same as the grief process following death of a loved one.  I truly didn’t understand this until I read a blurb in the back of a vampire fantasy novel by Laurell K. Hamilton (I was hiding in bad literature at the time) where the author talked about thinking that nothing would be worse than losing her mother as a child until she got divorced.  That statement shocked me but also resonated with me.  The death of a marriage is more than just walking away from someone you have loved.  It is the death of your dreams, of your idea of who the other person is, of the idea of who you are, of how you fit into your community and family, and of your belief in your future.

Once I understood this I realised why I had been angry, sad, wanting him back, etc.  It helped me to heal and bounce back much more quickly when I realised that my reactions were ‘normal’.

2. Putting your children first in every decision you make about how to react to your separation helps.  When I remembered to look at my decisions through the lens of ‘how will this affect the children’ my decisions were much better than when I had knee jerk reactions of ‘I don’t want this to happen’, ‘Hell no way am I agreeing with you’, or ‘You need to suffer too’.  (All of which are completely normal but not completely pleasant reactions.)

5 things I learned about divorce|a little bird made me

3. Something that was a problem during your marriage will continue to be a problem after your marriage.  I know – really obvious huh?!  For example it took me a long time to realise that the issues that we had about money during our marriage were exactly the same issues we were having about money after our marriage.  In fact it has taken me 5 years to realise that there is no point engaging in those discussions as nothing changes.  The sooner you learn to change your response, the sooner the situation will change.  By not engaging in these pointless conversations I am more able to gain perspective, less frustrated and more able to just ‘let it go.’

5 things I learned about divorce|a little bird made me

4. Biting your tongue lets your children develop their own relationships and form their own views on their parents.  Look.  I am no saint, and I make mistakes like everyone else.  However I have tried really hard not to tell the children every thought, feeling, frustration or anger I have towards their father.  They need to be able to work out his role in their life themselves, untainted by my history and views.  I try to just give them simple facts, or direct them to him for their answers.  When it is really hard I simply say ‘I don’t really understand why he did that either. Maybe you should talk to him about that so that he can help you to understand.’    What I mutter under my breath, in my mind or to my friends when the kids aren’t around is something quite different!

5. There is no perfect way for children to share their time between their parents.  No matter what people tell you there is no perfect solution.  Week about, every second weekend, every Friday night, half of each week, just on school holidays, and all the other weird and wonderful arrangements that we can dream up will never give our kids the ideal balance or life.  They will always feel a little displaced, out of sync, and disrupted.  There will always be the drama of telling a teacher ‘sorry I left that at Dad’s house’, or ‘Mum won’t sign the form because that is on Dad’s week’ or any of the hundred ways that they are forced to publicly share that they come from a broken home.  All we can do is support them, listen to them, give them a voice (but not control when they are too young), and let them know that we understand.

5 things I learned about divorce|a little bird made me

Life is complex.  Learning more about how to lead better lives helps to deal with that complexity.  Do I sound sage or just weary?  Either way – time for a cup of tea while I contemplate the latest development in the household.

Be kind to yourself today.

What no one tells you about parenting a special needs child|a little bird made me

What no one ever tells you about parenting a special needs child

What no one tells you about parenting a special needs child|a little bird made meIn the last couple of years I have had to come to terms with the diagnosis of my boy as having special needs.  I have been walking through the fog of discovery ever since, usually taking one step forward and two steps back.  I have been extremely fortunate that I have a wonderful family who provide great moral support even though none of them live within driving distance, a steadfast group of good friends, and that I have the skills to research and find the information I need.  I have also had to learn a new set of skills and shift my thinking dramatically about so many parts of my life, so I thought that if I shared a few of those discoveries here it might help someone else who ends up in the same boat.

1. You have to become your child’s advocate.   There is no one else in the world who knows your child as well as you, and who has more right than you to stand up for what is right for your child.  If you aren’t comfortable challenging the authority of teachers, principals, doctors, or your own family, it is time to learn. Challenging them doesn’t need to be aggressive, but it does need to involve questioning whether there are other options, whether factors that affect your child have been taken into account, and whether this is in the best interests of your child.

What no one tells you about parenting a special needs child|a little bird made me

2. There are laws to protect your child from discrimination, but the only person who is going to remind anyone about them is you.  Become aware of your rights and your child’s rights. When the school says ‘oh he/she can’t join the class to do (such-and-such) because he/she will be (insert any myriad of reasons)’, don’t agree and apologise for the inconvenience that your child has caused.  Instead ask what reasonable steps they could take to include your child in the activity.  Often just by asking the question they will be reminded that they have a duty to try and include your child, and will take steps to do so.

3. You cannot do everything yourself.  No matter how independent, strong and resilient you think you are, when you have a special needs child you need to make sure that you ask for help when you need it, or accept an offer of help when it is made.  Your child needs to have other people in his/her life that they trust and are comfortable being with, and you need to have people that you can leave your child with, knowing that they will be cared for and looked after.

What no one tells you about parenting a special needs child|a little bird made me

4. You will learn to appreciate little things that make life good.  I used to think in terms of a good week, or a good month. Now I celebrate a good hour, and sometimes even just a good decision about something small.  Being able to sit and drink a good cup of tea in one sitting is worthy of a celebration isn’t it?!

5. You will become very good at making apologies for not attending events.  I have lost count of the number of times I have had to give last minute apologies, not accept an invitation, or rearrange plans because I know that I need to stay home and not disrupt (further) our routine by going out.    I used to feel embarrassed or awkward about it.  Now I just say “I am very sorry but a family commitment has come up and I won’t be able to attend’, and no one ever complains to my face.  It is about establishing your priorities – what is more important – your children or your social obligations?

6. It is okay to trust your own judgement.  I recently took my children on a spur of the moment holiday to Hawaii.  (I know – crazy stuff!)  If I had thought about it for too long I probably would have listened to all the warnings about travelling with my son, and what could go wrong.  But instead I relied on my own judgement that I could manage the situation for him, and for his sisters, and although I began to question my own sanity on the overnight flight there (when no one slept and he was becoming agitated at the sound of a toddler crying) it turns out that I was right.  By taking everyone’s needs into account we had a lovely holiday that was much more stress free than life at home usually is!

What no one tells you about parenting a special needs child|a little bird made me

7. You have to look after yourself.  This one is probably obvious to many of you, but it wasn’t to me, and I learned the hard way what happens if you don’t read the warning signs.  I had a breakdown/burn out at the end of last year that has forced me to learn what happens if you just keep going without caring for yourself.  Whether it is having time to read a book, catch up with friends, have a hair cut, go for a walk – something that soothes your soul, and re-energises you is essential if you are going to be a good parent.

8. Special needs kids fight with their siblings just like other kids.  My boy and one of his sisters argue with each other a lot.  It is loud, it involves lots of whining, and it drives me crazy.  But I have to remind myself, and everyone else, that this isn’t because of his condition – this is standard sibling stuff going on.  And in the same way, the two of them will play together for hours without a cross word and get angry with their older sister for interrupting the rhythm of their game.  Sometimes kids are just kids.

9. You will get to know all sorts of amazing new people.  I have become friends with other parents of children with special needs who I would not otherwise have met which is great for support, but in fact, because my son looks at the world in a different way, he talks to people I would never think to engage with. I have lost count of the number of times we are at a shop and all of a sudden the lady at the fruit section is chatting to us about her life, or at a camp-ground and we are invited to join a camp-fire because they have met my son, or at a park and the other parents know that I make and sell things, thanks to my greatest advocate.

What no one tells you about parenting a special needs child|a little bird made me

10.  You will learn to laugh at yourself and with your child in a whole new way.  Okay, so maybe that is because if you don’t laugh you’ll cry some days, but laughter is good for us, and if you can remember to laugh at the ridiculous, everything feels so much better as a result.

If you have any points to add here, please feel free to do so by commenting!