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The Necessity of a Meditation Practice for the Parents of Children with Challenges or Special Needs.
I am the mother of a child with special needs. My young teenage daughter was born with pachygyria, which basically means her brain decided to be structurally different from the norm. In the old days she probably would have been labeled "retarded" (what a word, huh?!) and in a sense, that is what her brain did – it didn't advance fully.
My day-to-day equates to extensive learning delays and intense mood swings carried off by a normal looking kid. So, as I write to you... know that I GET IT. Having a child on a different path creates challenges and ups and downs like you would never believe. Right?! Not just for that child but also for you as a parent, or if you are a sibling, grandparent, educator, medical professional, etc.
One of my poignant directives, as a meditation teacher, is to reach out to parents who have never tried meditation or mindfulness and show them how freeing and important it can be for people who carry an abnormal amount of responsibility. (Let me point out. I know that jobs can be stressful, but, in most instances, you can leave a job. There are many stressful things that can be ended with a bold decision. THIS is not THAT.)
And, I'm not just talking to parents who you have a child with "extreme" challenges. A gifted child with high anxiety, to me, has special needs. A child who has never before experienced depression but suddenly is... is a child with special needs. If your teen has an eating disorder. Special needs. Anything that takes guts, heart, bravery -- that is special. Hell, just being a parent classifies you.
On my end, I've written that my meditation practice has been my "saving grace." Okay, if I am going to be honest... it is stronger than that. My 15 year practice has saved my life. With my daughter, I probably would have lingered in a consistent state of depression. I've had bouts, but with my practice I could always get out of it. And when I talk to you about feeling "excluded" from the masses... do you understand what I mean? When you are dealing with something out-of-the-ordinary, it is easy to feel isolated, alone and like no one can truly understand. I've learned to work (and continue to work) with isolation and to keep myself open and always inviting/expecting something/someone new and creative to land on my doorstep.
So, if I was going to encourage you, I would hold your hand compassionately and tell you why you should give yourself some quiet moments. And, if we were face to face, I would help you to FEEL my words below.
1. To help others... you must put yourself first.
We are rarely taught this. In fact, we are typically taught that this is bad, bad, bad and uncaring. Here's what I'm going to shout out... if you are not taking care of yourself, and continually checking in with you, you will limit what you can give to another human being.
Doing meditation keeps you connected to your own needs. If you need a massage, meditation will get you there. If you could really use some exercise or a calm walk, meditation will direct you. Meditation is a warm, floppy puppy who is always there and cares for you unconditionally, like no other. Because meditation connects you to you and tunes you in to what you need to get the job done.
2. Don't go at it alone.
I will approach this from two different points. First, when I work with special needs parents, I like to do meditation and mindfulness practices in a group. There is something so bonding and healing about that collective experience. So, if you can, do this work with others.
Second, having a meditation practice... if you wish... can link you to a heightened spirituality or heightened view of life. Meditation can allow you to freely explore your own beliefs and to increase your expansion. "Expansion" to God, Jesus, Buddha, spirit, Earth, your soul... whatever works for you. When you tap into this collective harmony, this sense of vast support, and the perfection in all that is, your own issues and isolation lessen.
And, if you are struggling with hard questions like, "How could God allow this to happen to my child?" Your practice can give you a quiet place to find answers, peace, comfort, relief. What I also think is so cool – you aren't having to rely on someone else to make you feel better. In world full of obstacles, to be able to find our own inner strength is paramount.
3. What do you have to loose?
Here's another honest statement. One of my special needs parents who does private sessions with me has attempted to gather a group of parents to meditate together. There has consistently been a block. "Too hard to find the time." "What will I do with my child?"
Again, I understand these constraints, but I challenge you and anyone... you have to make time. If you need a little more convincing, just read these two studies. (a) Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn found that the blood cells of chronically-stressed mothers who had reared special needs children were, genetically, about a decade older than those from peers who had more "normal" caretaking experience. This suggests that massive stress results in massive aging. (b) Marsha Mailick Seltzer, Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found mothers of adolescents and adults with autism experience chronic stress in the same league as combat soldiers.
Don't you want some training to prepare yourself for "combat"? Training for stress relief, how to balance doctor/therapy/OT/speech appointments, how to see what is most important, how to weed through advice, how to find support, how to support yourself, how to honor you emotions and feelings purely. This list could go on and on.
The funny thing is... if "the complications" are the only things holding you back, you are the master of that. YOU are the parent of a child with a special challenge, you know and can do things that other people would find impossible or daunting. So, finding a couple minutes a day or an hour with a group per week, YOU can DO that.
And, oh my gosh, there is so much out there at your fingertips. YouTube has so many guided meditations, sound-based meditations, healing meditations, "how to" meditate videos or "how to" practice mindfulness bits. Here's what I got searching for short meditations. I also have several free audio meditations on my site and would love to add another if you have a request.
It doesn't have to take money. It doesn't have to take resources. But, yes, it has to take some time and focus. And this is time that will reward you infinitely and reward your children and reward your spouse and reward your work and reward your health. FIND YOUR MOMENT! It is waiting for you...
Eden Kozlowski's passion is helping people, her community and her world live the way of the heart – an inspired and rich way of being. Founder and CEO of Just Be, LLC – a dynamic company rooted in meditation/mindfulness practices – she gracefully shows individuals, teachers, students, companies and professionals how to de-stress and foster mental, physical and emotional wellness. Listen to Eden's free meditations and Be-isms and contact her for private sessions or classes via just-be.info. Also, read her blog on The Huffington Post.