I’ve been a special needs parent for over 12 years now and I’ve ridden many highs and lows over that time. I know how easy it can be to be completely devastated by a diagnosis and everything it means for your child, your family and for yourself.
I know how a couple of seemingly simple words can turn your entire world upside down.
I know how tough it can be to accept that life will never be easy or ‘normal’.
I also know that I’ve never experienced gratitude or appreciation on the scale I have since becoming a special needs parent.
I know I’ve found a whole new level of patience that I never knew I possessed.
I know I have learned to be a better parent, and a much better person, to meet the challenges that special needs parenting brings.
Above all, in my 12 years as a special needs parent, I’ve learned to find the positives amidst all the very real negatives.
In the beginning, it felt nearly impossible to even consider there were any positives when our son was first diagnosed with oculocutaneous albinism.
How could there be any positives in the face of the reality that your child will more than likely be legally blind? Where are the positives in the fact he will never be able to drive or experience the same level of independence as his sighted peers?
And then a few years later we received his subsequent diagnosis of autism which just added another layer of difficulty to his life. I remember railing against the world at the cruelty of his lot – how could there be positives when it seemed the whole world was against him?
But, slowly and surely, my worldview began to shift. Once I grew more accustomed to his diagnoses and what they meant for him, I began to see glimmers of hope in our situation.
Instead of focusing on the difficulties of his life I instead took time to focus on the little wins. Instead of looking at him and seeing the diagnoses, I began to see him again as a little boy. Instead of going to bed despairing of his future I concentrated, in those moments before sleep, on planning for the next goal.
But how did I do this? How did I change my outlook so drastically?
I made the conscious decision to cultivate a positive mindset. I made the choice to find positives in special needs parenting.
Now cultivating a positive mindset doesn’t come easily to everyone. I’m lucky that I’m a naturally optimistic person but I’ve still been challenged throughout life by various obstacles such as special needs diagnoses, health scares, grief and loss.
Life is not easy and it not always fun. Especially when you are a parent, struggling with multiple commitments to work, family, the household and society. Sometimes it can be near impossible to identify anything positive amid the unrelenting stress of everyday life.
But, if you try hard enough, it IS possible to practice positivity and become more open to seeing the good in life. It can take a bit of practice but it is worth the effort to live a more positive and less stressed life.
Here are 7 ways I let go of the negative and came to identify the positives in special needs parenting:
- I acknowledged my fears.You can’t move on and see the positives if you are in denial or not prepared to face what scares you. Acknowledge and accept your situation – don’t ignore it. Consider writing up a list of the worst possible things that could wrong. This way your fears and worries are on paper, visible and able to be acknowledged. Seeing them there, in print, can help you put them into perspective too.
- I looked at the facts, as objectively as I could.After you have acknowledged your fears, look at the facts of the situation. Try to be as objective as possible and identify exactly what you do and do not know. Listing the facts will help you identify the things you should and should not be worrying about right now. This helps me put my fears into perspective.
- I consciously put aside what I didn’t know. Focus on the things you know rather than the things you don’t. There is no use worrying about the unknown. Deal with what you know first before worrying unnecessarily about things but may never happen anyway. Channel your energy on how you are going to deal with the certainties and leave the unknowns until they become known.
- I started to break down issues into manageable pieces. Start getting in the habit of breaking down issues into smaller, more manageable pieces. Don’t look at them as one big problem. Tackle an issue as a series of smaller obstacles – you will make quicker progress and it will be much easier to get started and, more importantly, keep going.
- I stopped focusing on everything that could go wrong. For sure, prepare yourself for every eventuality – that is a big part of special needs parenting. But instead of focusing on what MAY go wrong and how terrible that will be, concentrate on how you could turn things around to make things right again SHOULD the worst happen. This little shift in outlook puts a more positive and proactive spin on special needs parenting.
- I made the decision to see challenges as opportunities. Be open to new experiences. Instead of viewing challenges as obstacles, make the effort to consciously switch around your thinking to instead see challenges as potential opportunities. This will help change your perspective and promote more positive and flexible thinking.
- I chose to find the positives in everything. Once you have cleared your mind of the worry of the unknown, look at what you DO know and identify the positives. There will always be something there, however small and seemingly insignificant. Challenge yourself to find something to be grateful for every day. Keeping a gratitude journal or scribbling down a positive thought each day is a practical way to reinforce this thinking.
It’s not always easy to practice positivity, especially if it’s not your natural response to life’s challenges. And it’s even harder on those days where everything seems to be going wrong and there seems to be no hope in sight.
But learning to open yourself up to the possibility that there might be good amidst the bad is a life skill we should all try to cultivate.
Believe me, once you open yourself up to the possibility of good, then you will find it everywhere. Even in the most unlikely of places.
Kirsty Russell is a mother of three, two of whom have special needs. A business writer by day and personal blogger by night, she is surprisingly unorganised considering everything she has on her plate. A fan of making confessions and keeping things real, she blogs about special needs parenting, being a pug mum, avoiding housework and trying to work from home over at My Home Truths.