Life moves fast when you have a child with special needs. As parents, we’re constantly motivating our children with Herculean efforts, affect, patience, problem-solving, and love, to move through another day of progress out in a world that doesn’t seem to quite understand the nuances of our days. From breakfast to shoe tying, getting out the door, school, therapies, grueling homework, play dates, dinner, bath and bed, we go through a million rollercoaster rides of thoughts and emotions inside ourselves. Yet, how often do we take a moment to self-reflect on what we are thinking and feeling? How often do we acknowledge our self-doubt, our shame, our judgments of our children, and our amazing ability to work through these thoughts and show up in the world everyday as we do?
Working in the field of poetry therapy, I have spent years witnessing the power of self-expression through writing. When an individual is offered a piece of inspirational writing to read, and then offered the space, the safety and time to self–reflect on what it might bring up about their own life, an amazing thing happens --a voice inside them begins to work through the muck, and confusion of whatever is happening in their present life. The true power and the healing takes place as they allow this voice to write it down on an empty page with no rules, critiquing or editing. And suddenly they have been heard. It is has been taken off of their hearts and put on the page.
People often ask me how I use writing for my own healing. I prefer to have a monthly group where I can use the poetry therapy process to be inspired, and to have the time to write and share with the group. But, as I said earlier, we parents don’t always have the luxury of a structured writing group and a poetry therapy facilitator.
There are ways in our crazy lives to stop and reflect, and to work these moments out on the page. Our daily experiences are the inspiration. I am always listening for the moments in my day where I feel my thoughts and emotions are being triggered by something. Maybe it’s a moment of frustration with my son in the morning, or a comment made by a teacher or therapist that is working with him during the day, or how my heart hurts in the grocery store when I feel envious and angry at a family that seems so typical and perfect. It’s the little glances from my husband when I feel I have let him down, or raw moments of honesty where we lift each other up. These are the nuggets of gold to be written down and worked through on the page.
I carry a small notebook in my car and in my purse, and when these moments of thoughts occur, I jot them down. I have time waiting in the car pool lane, or while a therapist is working with my child, or before I go to bed at night. I use these moments to begin a poem. There is inevitably a turnaround in my thoughts- a magical place inside myself that knows how to steer me back to self-love and forgiveness. I give those scary places a voice, and then another greater voice inside me seems to know how to calm me down. I feel less alone and more at peace.
Recently I have noticed that I have anxiety around how I seem to define myself as “good” or “bad” depending on how well my son’s day is going. If it is a good day at school and I hear a positive comment on his progress, I am elated, I am a good mom, I can go on and have a peaceful, joyful day. If I see him struggling in the classroom or hear a negative comment from a therapist or teacher, my whole identity seems to crumble, and my day becomes heavy and dark. As I watch this pattern in myself, I feel determined to see a new perspective. I can see that in the big picture of things, my son is absolutely progressing from where he had been at the beginning of the school year. He has “good” days and “bad” days, but overall it is a clear upward climb of progress.
I know that this is one of those nuggets of gold that needs to be worked out on the page. As I begin to write about it, I notice that I begin writing in the third person, observing how other parents are doing this in their own hearts and minds everyday, as they watch their child. It is easier for my voice to start there, and as I continue to write, it becomes about me, and the way I am learning to step back from the ups and downs, and to see that I as a woman am not defined by my son’s day. I see that I can stand tall, and know that the present moment is just what it is, and nothing needs to be different at all for me to be okay, and at peace. It is in the writing of the following poem, that the greater voice of me finds what it needs to say to me.
I see the parents.
They sit on the sidelines
of a therapy room,
temporarily relieved for the respite.
Their eyes tell me the story-
the fear, the hope, the shame-
the secret judgments
of a life they feel went wrong.
Their eyes dance or drop,
depending on the child’s progress that day.
I know that place.
I have risen and fallen a thousand times
with my son.
But, I am trying a different path,
a smoother, more easy terrain,
where I can step out of the role of mother,
and see a woman standing tall,
walking gently in and out of the moments of a day.
She knows that nothing needs to be fixed.
Nothing needs to be different
than it is right now.
Over the years since my son’s diagnosis, I have written a large collection of poems that express my personal experience as a mother of a child with special needs. In addition through my work as an expressive writing coach, I have had the honor of working one on one and in groups with moms from around the world with children with special needs, helping them find their voice of inner wisdom and guidance. This is one way, of many, to consider asking yourself, “how do I move through the confusing, painful thoughts and feelings I face on my journey as a parent?” Maybe you will consider writing them down, and listening for that higher voice inside of you that always has the answers, and wants to tell you the healing words you need to hear.
By Jennie Linthorst, mother of Graham, whose story is featured in the documentary film: Autistic-Like: Graham’s Storyhttp://www.autisticlike.com/, facilitator of expressive poetry workshopshttp://www.lifespeakspoetrytherapy.com/, and author of the book of poems, A Mother’s Journey.