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In between constant therapy appointments, physician visits, and worries about a child’s physical health and social development remembering to be happy often fall to the sidelines. But it turns out parents don’t have to look far to find their bliss.
In pursuit of happiness
The kitchen table has more paperwork on it than food. Bills, records of medical treatment, notes about a child’s health or medical appointments, and insurance forms are so plentiful that one can see why there’s a dearth of trees.
Bleary-eyed and tired, it takes hours for parents to organize all of these obligations. And when they’re not thinking about the contents of the paperwork, they’re working, preparing meals, helping out with homework, or wrangling with medical or social services professionals. In the midst of all of this, being happy may not be on the agenda for the day, or at worst, unattainable.
But being happy should be a first priority for all of us, not a last one. When someone loses sight of what it’s like to be happy – and what it means to find joy in every situation – it drains their hope.
If a parent takes a minute to think about it, there is so much to be happy about. His or her child may face issues, but a parent that hasn’t lost touch with an inner happiness is more likely to see these challenges as obstacles that can, and will, be overcome. A parent that knows his or her child cannot see may view this situation is unfair and unjust, but by turning the situation around, he or she should be able to embrace the light in a son or daughter’s future prospects based on their interests and workarounds.
So much about being happy – and about rearing a child with physical or developmental challenges – is about converting negatives into positives. Thinking about a child’s condition in terms of whether or not he can complete tasks, learn, or play sports like other children can easily be turned into the realization that a child, because of his or her abilities, has a unique way of performing that is different from other children.
Witnessing their strides is empowering and filled with joy. It’s the result of resourcefulness and commitment on behalf of parents and the determination of the child, and the fact that it works well should be a source of pride and happiness for all.
There’s a multitude of reasons a parent needs to find a way to make happiness a priority. First and foremost is the emotional health of the parent. The other is to set an example of how to be happy during times of stress for their child. If a child sees a parent adopting a positive outlook, he or she is likely to adopt a similar disposition.
When a child is facing trying times – pain, problems at school, or difficulties coping – it’s helpful if they see optimism in action. The single biggest influence on any child is his or her parents; what they see is most likely what they will emulate.
The sun also rises
Happiness may seem elusive at times and sometimes left to chance; a goal that is determined by external factors. In truth, we make our own happiness. That means that when we choose to look at our lives and our children through an optimistic lens, we’ve made a conscious choice to be happy.
Here’s a handful of ways that can help parents and children make that choice today.
1. Accept and honor your feelings
Feelings can be powerful; a parent doesn’t need to read an article to know that. Feelings can bring on waves of anger and sadness, but also happiness. One thing that never leads to happiness is to bury feelings, or to sweep them under the rug. Acknowledge feelings – don’t worry about whether they are right or wrong. Try to understand how and why the feelings appeared. Make tangible changes to improve the feelings if possible, but if not accept that all measures have been explored, to the best of abilities. It is a step towards coping; it’s one giant leap towards being truly happy.
2. Focus on a child’s strengths, not weaknesses
All children have inherent abilities, and other aspects of life they may struggle with. Parents of children with Cerebral Palsy know that their child’s weaknesses may be somewhat more apparent than his or her strengths. Even if it seems everyone is focusing on this, it doesn’t mean a parent has to. Find out what a child’s strengths are – a parent is already in the best position to know this – and brag. A child will appreciate the feather in his or her cap.
3. Have fun, if only for five minutes a day on “those days”
When a parent gets up in the morning, he or she may immediately think about everything that needs to be accomplished. Some of these tasks, such as therapy appointments and school meetings, are often not enjoyable for a parent or child. Instead, parents can replace these chores with something that they will do during the day that is fun. It’s doesn’t have to be something big, just an activity that will help a parent transform or a child to connect.
4. Seek out inspiration every day
It’s great if a parent finds the time to seek out inspiration in books or other sources designed to bring comfort and joy to the soul. But the biggest source of inspiration is right in front of a parent – it’s his or her child. Every step a child takes in the right direction is a moment that is the result of commitment and tenaciousness, peppered with love and pride. It leaves a lot of room for parents to be continually inspired. And they don’t have to go very far to tap into this source of happiness.
5. Embrace changes
The only thing that is assured in life is change. These changes can be simple or life-altering; they can be expected or come out of left field. But the more a parent is able to take small changes in stride, the more he or she will be able to adjust to the big ones with grace. And remember – not all changes will be negative. Many, like when a child reaches a new milestone or develops a new interest, are reasons to rejoice.
6. Recall the ‘bright spot’ in the day
End each day with by recalling the “bright spot of the day.” This is one moment from the day that brought a smile, produced joy, or created laughter. It could be a spontaneous act of kindness, a moment to remember, a grandiose gesture, or it could be something quite simple, a genuine hug given with true intent. Ending the day on a positive note, sets the mind towards a restful, hopeful and appreciative slumber.
7. Be adventurous – and let your child be adventurous
Nothing brings a smile like a good, old-fashioned adventure. That doesn’t mean parent-child bungee jumping expeditions or daredevil-type pursuits, it means participating in an activity with a child that neither party knows much about. It could be as simple as a visit to a new museum, or bird watching. The adventure is a bonding exercise – it gives a parent and child a chance to learn more about each other.
8. Write it down
In this age of email and text messages, it’s never been easier to express feelings using the written word. By sending out some love to a child, or to those who assist with a child or other tasks, it means that the sender is extending happiness to another. That is the fastest way to have the happiness returned; by making an effort to bring some sunshine into someone else’s life.
9. Remember to laugh at least once a day
Some days are likely to be so tiring, or so challenging, that it can be difficult to see any upside at all, let alone humor. But people take life too seriously at their own peril. Being able to keep all of the aspects of one’s life in perspective is a harbinger of happiness because it gives us a sense of proportion – it doesn’t allow us to sweat the small stuff. And when the big stuff occurs, a parent will be able to draw on positive experiences to help him or her cope with changes and disappointments.
10. Above all else, have hope
Like a child’s ability to grow, perceive, and contribute optimism to any situation, hope springs eternal. And as a parent, there will be times he or she will need to hold onto that hope. As long as a parent has hope regarding a child’s future, there can be little room for unhappiness. These are counter-indicated feelings; they are not mutually-exclusive. With hope, all things are possible, not only for a child, but for that child’s mother or father.
Putting these tips to practice, happiness will be more than a light at the end of a long tunnel. It will be the light from within.
When a child with a disability reaches adulthood, feelings about acceptance by others may linger. If young people learn to accept themselves during their formative years, explore interests, form friendships, accomplish, interact, and socialize at age-appropriate stages, it can help empower a sense of belonging when they’ve grown.