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Thursday, November 8, 2012

I Just Needed Different Lenses!

Blessings. They are given to me every day whether I can see them, or deserve them, or not-- in my daughter who patters in and wakes me at 5:45 (this morning) saying, "Mommy, I'm hungry"; in my warm kitchen as I stumble around answering three children's questions while brewing my morning tea; in my hope for a better day today; in our family sitting around an oatmeal breakfast making silly jokes; in the car as we exchange thoughts about Halloween candy on the way to school...The word "blessing" has become almost trite. "Blessings to you", "what a blessing", or, need I point out, the name of my blog. I could have been more unique! I could have searched for a different word to express the concept of a blessing. How can I penetrate a world (that includes me) that often doesn't see the blessings in the first place, especially not in places like the the world of special needs?

It dawned on me this week-- another blessing of having a special needs child! I have had to learn to strive to find the GOOD in everything I can. That transformation has been my survival. It is called faith that God is good. (Or some days it is called behavioral therapy.) And it has done wonders for my outlook on life. Part of treating a child who has behavioral challenges is to carefully search for ANYTHING good that he is doing and to promote that behavior-- through words, rewards, points, love. Help him learn what it feels like to do something the right way. Reinforce the feeling.

This concept of searching for the good, putting on rose-tinted glasses, has NOT been intuitive to me. Basically, God has had to chuck his own shade of lenses my way because I have been blind. I have spent my life focusing on what is wrong--with everything. I have sought out the problems to fix. As a graphic designer, my whole career was built around identifying the business or communications problem that I could solve. I LOVE solving problems because it makes me feel successful. Darn ego.

We live in a world, particularly the world of parenting, that views children through a lense that too often sees what is wrong, not right. How many times a day do we tell our kids or our spouses about their shortcomings? How often do we see our own flaws rather than our strengths? It is easy to find errors. We might lecture our kids, give negative consequences, take things away, yell, or we might just give a look that magnifies the wrong...What do we do about the right? Do we say nothing, do we minimize with a simple "good job" or do we stop and think about the person, "wow, look how quietly you are sitting at the table tonight. What nice manners!" or "hey, did I just see you avoiding a fight with your brother by leaving the room? Way to make peace!"

Back when T went to school (he is now homeschooled), we often asked his teachers to share with us what he did well, rather than simply what he did wrong. The wrong part was easy-- impulsive behavior: pushing, speaking out of turn, grabbing toys from others, dominating play, silliness. We tried suggesting all sorts of devices to reinforce the positive-- tickets, checklists, stickers. But his teachers and aides (he had a one-on-one aide at multiple schools) would struggle to find more than two or three positive things to say about him-- in a week. Many days the chart would be empty. And our son noticed. That was the problem. His world frowned at him. Our child, who can't stop smiling, was seeing frowns everywhere. We practically begged for "kudos" to give him from school for something, so that his smile wouldn't go away. Searched for blessings. We watched him lose interest in school, in eating, he stopped sleeping, and he started crying a lot. We watched his smile fading. He was in kindergarten.

So we made the decision to bring him home where he could learn in a "successful" environment. At home he could feel recognized and embraced for his strengths while learning. No more alienation.

We have discovered that our culture effortlessly finds fault with children, parents and people-- especially those who are different. They miss the other stuff! And that stuff is rich with blessings...T whistles or hums with joy as he works, he loves almost everyone, he is a leader, he is creative, athletic, smart, passionate, eager, and he wants to learn all the time. He is a beautiful person. But we have not found a school where he fits.

Like all of us, T has many negative qualities too! Thus the challenges in school and making friends. My husband and my behavioral method at home involves identifying T's (and our other children's) errors clearly, but giving them little attention, a simple warning, sometimes a consequence, when they occur. To gently collaborate with them on ways to improve on those weaknesses, ahead of time. No shame. No lectures. We take responsibility for setting up our kids for success. We talk about individual mistakes, with love... Until of course we have the day when our "buttons are pushed" and we revert to our primitive, "angry-that-you-aren't-who-I-want-you-to-be-and-why-don't-you-respect me" selves. And then we have to start all over again! Retraining our brains. Putting on a different pair of glasses.

Here's the irony: in learning how to "fix" my special needs child, I have had to learn how to STOP trying to fix him and my other children...and to embrace their strengths, prop them up, and love them with all my might. I have had to become an optimist. No more comparisons (those are extremely confusing and often depressing when your child is on a very individualized track.) No more projecting and fearing the future (once I realized that I'm not God, I realized that I could give up the fortune telling act.) No more constantly finding fault in my unusual child, in myself, in my family. I am ashamed to say this, but in the past I might have shown my dismay openly about T's bad behavior just to prove to people that I was not condoning it. To show that I am a good mom.

I still suffer. I cry regularly about T. I still worry,  and I still dream about "the easy life"... But I have much more strength because I can see the daily gifts. I believe I can only see them because God forced me to.

Today my daily challenge is to seek and recognize "the right" all day long in my childrens' difficult, human, behavior. (My husband and I use a point system with prizes to help do this.) To love my children. To model "the right" rather than to lecture to about it. To openly recognize when I'm wrong. If I can help my kids feel what "right" feels like, and to be comfortable admiting that we all mess up, all day long....well, there is the gift.

Lastly, my challenge is to forgive others for all of the ways that we humans, including my children, fall short every day, and to accept that I am also forgiven. Thanks be to God. Only then can I see the blessings.

Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything, This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything.
Alan Cohen 


1 comment :

Lynn Challenger said...

The ironic aspect of your latest observation is that it is applicable to all of us in how we operate in our community. How many of us intentionally look for the flaws in others? Or at the least, spend most of our time talking (gosiping) about the negative side of other people? Do we really spend a lot time talking about all the positive aspects of people with our friends?

I know that when I am at work, the positive is what is exepcted. If you do a good job, you are just doing your job. But if you mess up, people tend to draw attention to the mistake. For example, we have error reports, but we do not have excellence reports. This is why our HR department constantly reminds us all to celebrate the victories or recognize excellence.

But the application goes many people can desacribe all the positive attributes of Romney and/or Obama? Were we all paying attention to what the "other" candidate does or says wrong?

It is hardly a Christian way to live, but I know I am guilty of it.

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