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5 Life Lessons Only Parents of Children with Birth Defects Will Understand

5 Life Lessons Only Parents of Children with Birth Defects Will Understand

Birth defects affect one out of every 33 babies, and that defect will often impact the entire family. Parents of babies with birth defects are uniquely affected because they face the challenge of helping their child meet their full potential in a world that is challenging for everyone.

With every challenge of caring for a child who was born with a defect, there is also an amazing lesson that teaches parents about love and life. These lessons include those of hope, strength, courage, and learning to love through the pain.

Here are five life lessons that only the parents of children born with birth defects can understand.

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How to Be Fearless

Fear is something that we learn over time. We learn to fear rejection, the future, and the dark. But, mostly, we are afraid of the unknown. But, having a child with a birth defect can help relieve those fears because you quickly learn that there is no time to waste in being afraid. The time you miss out on because of fear is time you could have spent loving.

How to Participate in Advocacy

The moment you realize that your child has a birth defect is likely one of the most difficult moments of your life. It is a moment that you would not wish on anyone else, and it is not until this moment that you are able to truly understand what it means to be an advocate.

Your child gives you a voice and the drive to stand up for others in ways you never realized you could.

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When you have a child with a disability, you are not just an advocate for your child and your family. You have the unique opportunity to stand up for other families in your community and around the world. This was especially true for my partner and me; our child had been injured through medical negligence at birth.

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    You can quickly find yourself speaking to doctors and lawyers, not just on behalf of yourself, but also on other families who have gone through a similar experience. Brain injuries during birth are common and many parents with disabled children are at a loss on how something like that could have happened.

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    This position is a heavy one because you know that your abilities in preventing the sadness others may feel are limited. But, you know every moment that you breathe life into your cause, you might someday help relieve the pain of another family.

    How to Dream Big

    So many people choose to limit themselves over the smallest of things. But, when you parent a child with a disability, you learn that even the big things do not need to stand in your way. The way that all children are able to reach for the stars is aspirational to parents. Because if your child, who was hindered so early in life, is able to dream big, why can’t you?

    How to Believe in Yourself

    Disabled children believe they can always work harder, do more, and be better versions of themselves. From the very beginning of life, they strive hard to overcome the obstacles that they never asked for or created for themselves.

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    Watching your child perform small miracles every day inspires you to believe in yourself, both as a parent and as a person with so much to give to the world.

    How to Transform Lives with Love

    Love is the one thing that makes everything feel alright, even if only for a moment, and love was what helped you get through every difficult moment of those first weeks of parenting.

    A child helps you learn to love unconditionally, and ask nothing in return. The ability of your child to love you so much despite everything can transform your entire life in ways you never imagined.

    All children are precious miracles with much to teach us. But, there are some lessons that only parents who have had the joy and heartbreak of raising a child with birth defects will truly understand.

    Featured photo credit: Stephen Hockhaus via flickr.com

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    Published on August 15, 2019

    15 Tips for an Overwhelmed Working Mom to Feel Better

    15 Tips for an Overwhelmed Working Mom to Feel Better

    As an overwhelmed working mom, you get a lot of intelligent ideas from magazines, friends and the internet about how to manage work, children, and a household.

    Unfortunately, you may still feel exhausted and insufficient at work and home despite the advice to organize, cook efficiently and pamper yourself .

    How great would it be to wake up tomorrow knowing that you can begin to feel better without all of those overwhelmed feelings?

    The sensation of feeling overwhelmed when you wear a lot of hats: mom, professional, household manager, partner, friend, etc. has its roots in reality. You are absolutely doing a lot of important jobs. But here’s the thing:

    If feeling overwhelmed has become your knee-jerk or chronic reaction, this emotion is now literally a part of you that needs your attention so that you can move forward more confidently.

    If helping yourself sounds too difficult, never fear. These tips come straight from therapy and neuroscience to hack into your nervous system. You will learn deeper ways to calm down and feel more confident about yourself, your life and your choices.

    1. Breathe and Notice What Your Body Feels like Inside and Out

    By using body-centered therapy techniques, you can better understand your overwhelmed feelings and offer accurate and practical help.

    As you’ll learn, when you feel stressed out, your thinking brain is not your best resource. In fact, simply thinking about and bolstering your efforts to “get rid” of overwhelmed feelings might actually make them worse.

    The first step to help when you feel overwhelmed is to simply slow down and breathe. This does not mean that you should suddenly take in huge gulps of air or breathe rapidly. That will send you into panic!

    Breathe normally and naturally. Make your breath comfortably slow, extending the exhale. Count 5 to 10 breaths.

    2. Get a Little Curious

    Ask yourself: How do I know I’m overwhelmed? Close your eyes or soften your gaze if you are able. Imagine shifting your awareness from your outside world and sending it into your body along with your breath.

    You might notice the signals right away. For example: My chest is tight, my heart is beating rapidly and there’s a sense of frustrated energy in my legs and arms. Or you might just hear some words like: I’m freaking out, failing or cannot do it!

    If it’s possible, get a little curious about this sensation. Consider that while it may be a big feeling, you probably have other parts of you that feel differently.

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    3. Offer Some Loving Care to Stressed-Out Parts of You

    Richard Schwartz, developer of Internal Family Systems Therapy defines our personalities as made up of sub-parts that interact within us. This explains why a “part” of you can feel one way and yet, you have another part that feels differently.[1]

    Gently acknowledging the part of you that feels overwhelmed and offering it some support and compassion (as you would a frightened child) can soothe your body and mind. “I’ve got you,” is a great mantra to breathe in when you’re overwhelmed.

    4. Get Smart About Your Wise Nervous System

    You may have heard of the “gut” brain or “body” brain. The science of Polyvagal Theory shows that the entire nervous system impacts how you think and feel – not just your thinking mind.

    In fact, did you know that your wise nervous system generally picks up information from your environment before your brain can interpret it?[2]

    When you feel overwhelmed, just one tiny cue of “danger” felt in your nervous system is often the unconscious trigger that tips you from busy but competent to feeling freaked out and exhausted.

    This cue could be as simple as a song on the radio that feels overly-stimulating, a child’s bad mood (even if it has nothing to do with you) or your spouse forgetting an unimportant errand.

    5. Remind Yourself That a Feeling Can Just Be a Feeling

    When you’re feeling agitated, your physical body is naturally on high alert. Any information or stimulation you receive at these times will feel overwhelming.

    This is not your fault, but it is helpful to understand that usually, when you feel like you’re not good enough, it is not objectively true. Your mind may just be creating a reason for the signals of danger coming from your body.

    Allow your body to feel without making a negative judgement about yourself or your life. This technique will help you break the cycle of feeling overwhelmed, then creating negative thought about the feeling resulting in overwhelming yourself even more.

    6. Learn Your Most Common Unconscious Responses to Stress

    Why is this important? When you feel stressed, you probably respond unconsciously in the same ways throughout your life.

    For some, too much stress will quickly create a numb, hopeless sensation. For others, the thought that life is just “too much” leads to bouts of panic or anger. Still, others might freeze completely, feeling highly anxious but not able to do much at all.

    From a biological perspective, all of these experiences are pretty normal. When you recognize that your body’s reactions are not faulty or foolish, it’s much easier to reassure yourself and move forward confidently.

    7. Exercise the Part of Your Nervous System That Provides Wellbeing and Social Connection

    Did you know that you can actually tone your ventral vagal nerve, the nerve responsible for feelings of safety and social connection?[3]

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    As often as you are able, allow yourself to linger on your favorite memories that invoke feelings of wellbeing, connection to loved ones, times of beauty in nature or your favorite memories of pets or places. Use all of your sense to really feel the experience in your body.

    By doing this, you’re activating and toning your ventral vagus nerve as you might tone your muscles. Make a kind of “body bookmark” of these purely content sensations to which you can return when stressed.

    This practice may feel silly, like an indulgence or even a fantasy. But it is supported by science and is important for you to create a strong and healthy response to stressors.

    8. Give Baby Parts a Break

    No part of you is trying to hurt you. But parts of us do feel extreme feelings and carry burdens from our past.

    For example, if you are feeling overworked in the present, it may activate parts of your personality that felt similarly earlier in life. Deep anger, fear, resentment or sadness provide a signal to you that something from your past could benefit from your attention.

    I know this may sound strange, but the next time you feel very overwhelmed, take a breath and notice if you feel like a child trying to do an adult’s job. If so, spend a moment calmly and compassionately reminding all of your inner child parts that you are indeed grown, capable and doing something appropriate.

    9. Address Critical Messages You Give Yourself

    What do you hear yourself saying to yourself when you feel overwhelmed? You may notice parts of you that sound critical or even cruel.

    Statements like “I’ll never catch up,” “Why do I try,” or “I can’t do anything right,” are very common to hear when you’re under stress. Believe it or not, these inner messages are likely misguided protective parts of your personality.

    These parts are normal and try to help you by “whipping you into shape” so you won’t fail, alerting you about scared feelings inside, or avoiding shock or disappointment by anticipating how others might criticize you.

    If it’s possible, acknowledge these parts as protective. Maybe express a bit of gratitude. Notice how the critical voices inside you, even though they likely mean well, cause exhaustion and even more stress.

    When you acknowledge these messages inside, letting them know they are part of you and you see their positive intention, the critical messages calm.

    10. Take Small Moments to Express Gratitude

    Everyone is talking about gratitude, I know. But there are good reasons for this trend.

    More and more studies about gratitude show valid connections between gratitude and lowered stress and mental health. A 2018 multi-university research study concluded that gratitude not only has direct effects on quality of life, but also has indirect effects through perceived stress and mental health.[4]

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    There are many reasons that gratitude impacts our nervous systems in positive ways, but the best way to discover this impact is to simply try it yourself.

    Take a minute each day to write down one to three things for which you feel grateful. These can be large or small, important or trivial, but they must be true. Make this a habit and watch your stress-relief grow.

    Or you can try some of these 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude.

    11. Play with Time

    In Gay Hendrick’s 2010 book The Big Leap, he talks about the concept of Einstein time vs. Newtonian time.

    Newtonian time is the clock time we all watch all day. Einstein time is more about what you make with your moments, realizing that your perception can slow or speed time up.

    For example, if you are spending time with someone you love and doing something you enjoy, time moves very quickly. Conversely, if you are doing a miserable job in uncomfortable weather, each second can feel like an eternity.

    The next time you feel stressed for time, take a slow breath and remind yourself that you make time. Time belongs to you. Then, enjoy the pace and do what you need to do. With practice, this little tool will become valuable for overcoming the mental pressure of time.

    12. Don’t Be Tricked by Perfection

    When you’re in the thick of raising children and working, sometimes nervous energy presents as perfectionism. In an effort to feel in control, you may make arbitrary but unreasonable goals for yourself that feel like they are necessary or true.

    Make a quick inventory of every job you are expecting of yourself and your family. Now question it all. What is really important and what is just preferable? What jobs can be left to someone else’s discretion, done well-enough by the children or dropped completely?

    Keep any jobs that give you joy and do them joyfully. Let go of jobs that feel like standards or expectations with little or no payoff. Save them for retirement if you like.

    13. Give Yourself Credit for Quality Time with Your Kids

    Think of the time you spend relaxing with and enjoying your children as a $100,000 per hour job. Very small amounts are still incredibly valuable.

    Showing your children that they are important is just as likely to happen in a ten-minute game of catch as in a whole day at the water park. A shared snack time, a book before bed, a half hour away from your phone to allow loving eye contact with your babes adds up to a lifetime of security and wonderful memories.

    Imagine your child someday saying, “Mom worked hard, but she always had time to hug me, to hear about my day, and to offer me guidance. I always knew that I mattered to her.”

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    14. Meditate for One Minute a Day

    Yes, you may do more. But if you can’t afford any more than one minute, go ahead and sit comfortably, breathe and be in your body for this time. It’s such a simple but powerful exercise and the kids can do it too.

    While you meditate, notice your loving heart. What does it need from you today — patience, compassion, creativity, caring, play? Remember to show up for yourself and you will show up for your work and your family as well.

    15. Guard and Celebrate Sleep

    From tinies to teens, there are many unavoidable reasons that kids interrupt your sleep.

    Here’s the thing: Unexpected sleeplessness due to childhood growth or illness is normal and not easy to control. If you are feeling overwhelmed, though, sleep is crucial.

    There are two things you can do to improve your mindset toward sleep so that you set yourself up for confidence rather than collapse.

    One, prioritize and protect your sleep time. If you tend to wait until the kids go to sleep to complete work or finally relax, that’s okay. But don’t let these activities cut into your sleep time.

    Given the choice between another load of laundry, Words With Friends, binge watching Game of Thrones or eight hours of sleep, consistently choose sleep.

    Two, appreciate and express gratitude for any sleep you get. Sometimes, it’s impossible to get seven or eight hours of sleep. However, allow yourself to enjoy any time when you are laying in a comfy space allowing your body to rest and repair.

    When you wake up saying “I didn’t get enough sleep last night,” you put your mind on alert that there is something lacking. This thinking alone can trigger feelings of overwhelm.

    Set your nervous system up for success by appreciating any amount of rest.

    Final Thoughts

    Life as a working mom is not an easy one. Overwhelmed feelings are natural and normal but, they can take over and cause chronic stress and dissatisfaction.

    Allow yourself just a few moments a day to reorganize your thoughts and feelings using the steps above. You’ll soon discover your calm and capable self.

    Take a lesson from your growing children: small changes create big results now and in the future.

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    Featured photo credit: Bruno Nascimento via unsplash.com

    Reference

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