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There’s an old saying that we see things not as they are, but as we are. Here’s how to develop some safeguards when situations threaten to taint our outlook, here’s how each of us can brighten our point of view.
How to revise your outlook
On one side of a building, there’s a long, unattractive wall with no windows and only a singular, lonely door.
But when a person rounds the corner to the front of the same structure, there are bright colors, beautiful windows, decorations and maybe even a beautiful sign.
That’s the way life can be. Situations in our lives may seem, from one angle, to be foreboding and hopeless. But from another perspective, hope springs eternal – there is a sense of optimism where there used to be despair.
The interesting thing about this scenario is that nothing has changed; the only factor that’s changed is our perspective.
The parents of children with special needs do not need reminders that they have an increased level of stress in their lives.
As much as a parent may love their child, the constant array of appointments with therapists, educators and physicians can be overwhelming, especially if a parent is responsible for meeting all of their child’s needs.
Parents of children with disabilities make many sacrifices, and although most are happy to place their child’s needs front and center, it’s inevitable to sometimes feel pangs of sadness or depression or a sense of being overwhelmed. Major changes in peoples’ lives, such as managing a child’s health conditions, keeping up with all the additional appointments (doctor’s, school and therapy), and handling emergent conditions such as seizures and respiratory infections, have a natural ability to increase stress levels, especially when sleep is lacking and opportunities for rest are fleeting.
The feelings can be immensely powerful. Sometimes, no matter what measures people take to alleviate painful emotions, the intense thoughts just won’t go away.
It may be helpful to realize it doesn’t have to be that way. A change in perspective, much like rounding the corner of the building, can help us see situations that cause stress in a new light. You may have to deploy creativity, or think out of the box; maybe even create new “rules.” Even if nothing has essentially changed, what transforms is how we perceive our lives, our children, ourselves, and our options.
There are times when it is beneficial that parents identify the hurdles and address them. What is causing the inability to be positive and to move forward? How can that barrier be addressed or overcome? Parenting naturally causes us to second-guess our decisions and feel guilty about our circumstances. Parents can feel trapped by financial constraints, confined by emotional walls, or locked behind doors that seem to be unfairly closed.
Think of the situation as if cleaning the bookshelf. Every barrier is the equivalent of a hard-cover book on the shelf. As you remove a book from the shelf and carry it, the weight is noticeable. As you carry the weight of more and more books for a period of time, the books become heavy and burdensome ultimately slowing down the process. There will come the point when the books become too heavy to carry as they immobilize the family and keep them from moving forward.
Likewise, stepping outside of the confines of the situation to a new vantage point, may allow a parent to see their situation from a new dimension.
Having a child is one of life’s most significant experiences; from the moment a parent finds out a baby is on the way, expectations and hopes occupy the mind.
Whether these expectations are realistic – some parents think about their child being a baseball MVP or the President of the United States – when Cerebral Palsy diagnosis occurs, it’s going to throw a wrench in the thought process. That’s because parents aren’t immediately sure how Cerebral Palsy will affect their child’s life journey.
Casting aside those aspirations, though, shouldn’t mean that a parent’s hopes are permanently extinguished. When dreams falter, it means there is room for new dreams. The world is constantly in a state of flux, and right now, it may be impossible for parents to dream what a child may actually achieve years from now.
A parent who is concerned about what is lacking – time, connections with friends or family, or money – will become emotionally stuck if they feel those things are unlikely to return. This makes it difficult, if not impossible to take steps to bring those things back into one’s life. Focusing on what a family lacks, as opposed to what they are able to attain, requires a shift in focus.
A parent who has confined by negative perceptions can benefit by knowing that he or she is more than the sum of their perspectives. Because perspectives can – and do – change, it’s possible for people to undue assumptions and form different expectations.
Shifting one’s perspective doesn’t mean accepting situations that are inappropriate; one should not accept situations they feel are not in the best interest of a child. But sometimes, our hearts and minds are on overdrive, and it’s beyond our ability to reflect on a situation in a manner that is less perplexing.
Take a step back. Look a situation head on, and assess its potential for positive and negative outcomes. Be flexible – without settling – regarding what would be considered a positive outcome for a child. A parent shouldn’t make the mistake that the child will not have a future it is beyond the parent’s ability to envision it. There is still a lot to learn about a child and his or her abilities. Technologies are developing.
Government is supportive. Community is willing to support. Society is opening doors wider than they have been in the past. And, our children are exceeding our expectations.
Sometimes, changing perceptions means being strong enough to appreciate the baby steps, dream for tomorrow, and keep stifling thoughts at bay.
Ways to turn the corner
Perspective is relative. For example, if a child accidentally knocks over a glass of milk producing a messy situation on the table, their clothes and the floor it may seem like a huge inconvenience and the first reaction is displeasure. The child is likely worried about the repercussions of their mistake. However, using the concept of perspective, a parent and child may significantly benefit by envisioning the accident as an opportunity to learn. Instead of scolding the child for the inconvenience of the mess, a parent could hand the child a roll of paper towel, mention “mistakes happen,” and challenge the child to a competition on who can absorb the mess faster.
Perspective requires a parent to pick their battles. In the end, what causes more stress? What creates more peace, tranquility and balance? Sometimes it is only a matter of perspective.
There are many different practical strategies that can be deployed to improve your perspective during challenging times.
1. Imagine how another person may view your life. Sometimes, a situation can look entirely different to our friends than it does to us. Other people’s perceptions can give us valuable information about our lives and how we feel about it. It’s easy to say that another person isn’t going through the same situation, but that person might notice something that has gone undetected, or see a solution that hasn’t yet been discovered.
2. Read. A good book has the potential to transport us to new realities, but more often, a good book makes parents think about their situation in a new way. Books can give advice, especially if they come from the self-help section, but books that are intended only to tell a story can be immensely useful. How does a character cope with a situation, and how can a reader implement their solutions into his or her life? Or, how would the reader cope with the character’s issues differently? These lessons can be applied to real life.
3. Connect with family members, especially older adults. Elderly relatives – grandparents, or a kindly aunt or uncle – have experienced ups and downs and fear and uncertainties; and have likely dealt with significant life transitions. And, they are people who likely love the children in their families and have a vested interest in their well-being. They can be a valuable sounding board for guidance and advice, and proof there is life on the other side.
4. Volunteer. Helping others, and learning more about their struggles, can provide us some much-needed distance between our problems. Parents with children with special needs generally don’t have the luxury of a lot of free time, but there are initiatives at school and in the community that children, as well as parents, can be involved in. Network with other parents to learn how they cope with their struggles. They may offer a tidbit that will make you see your situation in a manageable light.
5. Ask, “What would my child do?” Your child is a creative, new soul. He or she may have experienced more than most. Consider how your child looks at what’s happening in his or her home, and try to see it through a child’s eyes. Ask, are my negative thoughts also causing my child to view their situation in a negative light? Is there room for improvement? It may give the parent a level of insight about how they can positively, or negatively, affect the entire family. Children have a built-in level of optimism; resilience that is untouched by time and life experience. Cherish it, and use it. Try not to overburden them with the negative.
6. Learn to love what you can’t control or predict. So much of what we experience, and what children experience, exist beyond our grasp. Parents can affect many of their children’s life experiences. Within those parameters, a parent must learn to roll with punches, and embrace the uncertain. And remember that the potential for something going wrong is roughly equal to the potential that something will go right. Feel confident in the choices made, as you likely made the best choice available at the time.
7. Remember the big picture. Depending on a person’s individual situation, the big picture can be warm and beautiful, or cold and stark. If the latter is true, the first steps are to reach out for support to ensure a more positive future. But that can be easier said than done, and occasionally feel as if difficult circumstances may never be manageable again. Nothing could be further from the truth. Always remember that there are people who care about children with disabilities and their families, and making a strong connection can be the first start in making positive changes.
8. Consider options, not compromises. Decisions that have the potential to reduce the quality of life a parent has with a child are the ones that a parent will most likely ruminate on for a long time. Although there are times when difficult decisions must be made, always try to look at what opportunities and options are made available once a decision is made. Make the best of every situation, and take pride in doing so.
9. Focus on what you have. Parents should never forget how lucky they are to have, hold, and love the brave fighting spirit that is their child. All children are gifts, and a child – whether he or she has a disability or not – represents hope and potential for the future. Remember a child has unique abilities and is bright beyond words, and that no matter where a parent goes, or what he or she does, they’ll never meet another child like their own. That alone should be enough to put things into perspective.
A message can be verbal, or something that’s felt in the heart. What all messages have in common is that they can influence our perspectives for better or worse. Luckily, by gathering positive messages, the bad ones can be cast away.
- Accept Help
- Celebrate Your Child
- Dare to Dream
- Experience Magic
- Find and Foster Creativity
- Gain Perspective
- Get Your Mojo Back
- Keep the Family Together
- Let Go
- Love without Barriers
- Pat Yourself on the Back
- Plan Ahead
- Pursue Happiness
- Reinvent Normal
- Share Some Love
- Take a Break
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