Last week I had this wonderful opportunity to speak at a parent support group.

While enough has been researched and written about the positive impacts of support groups especially through chronic challenges, there remains a huge dearth of the same in our healing community.

“There are stigmas and doubts attached to certain life conditions which inhibit the community seeking behaviour.”

So, it did come as a pleasant surprise when I was invited to be part of one.

This was a group of parents who have children with different abilities. Most were seeking Occupational therapy from an established expert, and it was her brainchild to create this group to assist parents with their daily support and queries.

The expert, an old friend, and a firm believer of a holistic approach to healing had apprised me of the previous sessions and had outlined 3 core concepts where the parents were seeking inputs. (With limited time on the online format, we had to define the outline keeping priorities in mind)

And the 3 key concepts that I had to touch base upon were:

  • Acceptance
  • Self-Care
  • Parenting

Acceptance – WHAT DOES ACCEPTANCE MEAN TO YOU? Is it about looking at the current reality with a sense of hopelessness? Is it giving up? Does it involve resentment at not having better options to choose from?

In my opinion, True acceptance is not a forced feeling. It’s about being authentic to your emotions at every moment. Before the rationalisation starts. Before we start making excuses and covering up our genuine feelings.

The primary objective of living is 1) survival 2) happiness. I’m not talking of the big chunky moments of obvious ecstasy and delight we feel on achieving or acquiring something…. but the ease of flow of day-to-day life that brings a sense of peace…if that is not happening then we may have to go back and introspect on what we are fighting against every day. If we truly accept then such a dichotomy wouldn’t exist.

True acceptance isn’t about saying ok I accept my situation or reality and then internalising a feeling of pain, resentment, anger, shame, disappointment. That’s a misaligned and false way of living and eventually erodes you from the inside.

For me, True acceptance comes when I can understand the honest Musts / Demands that are driving my emotions, my thoughts and my behaviours about a given situation at a given time. These Musts were identified and established by Dr Albert Ellis, an American psychologist and psychotherapist who founded Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), the school of counselling that I trained in. They are:

  • I must do well and win the approval of others or else I am no good – meaning I must always be competent, perfect, successful, approved, have predictable emotions, never feel anger, anxiety, or depression. These musts make one feel depression, anxiety, procrastination, risk avoidance, unassertiveness, workaholism etc
  • Other people must do the right thing always or else they are no good and deserve to be punished – this makes one inflexible, makes one want authority, makes one believe everything should be about them and others don’t know any better. Therefore, we experience anger, rage, bitterness, impatience. We exhibit nagging or bullying behaviour.
  • Life must be easy without discomfort or inconvenience – One seeks control over future events. This demand for a trouble-free life makes one have little faith in their own inherent coping or problem-solving ability while placing an irrational amount of faith in life to miraculously find the right answers. This gives rise to low frustration tolerance, self-pity, depression, indulgence in behaviour which provides quick relief– like drinking smoking, emotional eating.

Once we have an honest review of our Demands, Acceptance appears through all the smog of hundreds of unhelpful thoughts and expectations.

Addressing the next topic of self-care was interesting. And touched a raw nerve with all the parents/caregivers who couldn’t remember the last time that they did something just for themselves. The guilt, anxiety or simple selfishness that they experienced, made it impossible for some of them to fathom the idea of self-care. But self-care need not be time-consuming or anything that throws off the carefully crafted schedule of their children. It can start simple. In fact, it should start simple to give you the faith and ease of making it part of your everyday living. My tiny self-care options included

  • Ask for help – We are all guilty of struggling beyond capacity before asking for support at some of time or the other. And this is more prevalent with parenting. As parents we believe strongly that anything and everything related to my child’s wellbeing should be only my concern and asking for help or support may make me look like an inefficient or ill-equipped parent. On the contrary, asking for help makes us look human. (Remember, even Mr Incredible and Elastagirl struggled with it!). Infact, it was rightly pointed out by one of the participants in the support group that she was surprised how many people in her immediate environment came to her aid when she asked for support. That’s right. People are generally good and willing to help if you ask.
  • Know your circle of control – The circle of control is a good tool to use when you want to bring things into perspective. I use this every time I find myself drawing circles around a problem and exhausting myself physically and emotionally. Simply knowing what part of the challenge you can control and what is beyond your scope takes away the excess weight we can place on themselves.
  • Solve it, leave it, live with it – I read this in some article on problem solving or decision making. And it made sense. Just being aware of the problem and the circle of control doesn’t always give the answer. Depending on what point we find ourselves in life, we may or may not be able to resolve certain things right then and there, and this plan of Solve it, leave it, or live with it could be a game changer. You may revisit the problem when you believe the resources (either external or internal) available to you have changed
  • Journal, Journal, Journal – I cannot emphasise enough the impact that the singular habit of journaling has had on the rational thinking process. The self – care and healing happen as a natural extension of laying bare every single thought (Godd, bad and the in betweens). Seeing your voice being externalised in someway has a therapeutic effect for our inner self. The solutions seem to appear somewhere between those lines simply because you are being honest without fear of being judged, misunderstood or being unheard.

We then moved on to the last topic of Parenting. This is a vast discussion point with no defined framework. No Rights and Wrongs. It’s experiential growth and very difficult to be learnt through books and speeches. But what I had intended to bring to light for this group of Parents were certain fallacies and traps to avoid which may just make this adventure called Parenting a little less inconvenient.

  • Being a parent is hard, being a parent to a child with different needs or extra needs is extra hard. Acknowledge that just to bring peace in the moments when you see yourself struggling or failing
  • Comparison will kill your inner peace -being part of the support group entails everyone sharing their experiences and journeys and there would be some highs shared, some goals achieved, some positive markers highlighted by parents. This however should not be used as a progress comparison platform. Each child with his unique challenges, unique environment and unique learning ability will follow his/her own trajectory. Trying to compare their journey with that of another child or of two parents would be an unfair and heart-breaking process. In those moments of frustration know that you and your child will script your own story together. There is no comparison scale. We all have our battles just the way we will all have our own victories.

As a parent these are the 3 practical tips I try and use as often:

  • Genuinely Listen to your child
  • Learn to have a sense of humour about even the hard days, laugh with your kids
  • Forgive yourself everyday

At the end of the session, I’m sure I couldn’t clear all queries or solve all challenges for the group. Nor do I think I can. But the comfort of knowing that there is a space available where some bits and pieces of support may make life a tad bit easier left all of us feeling grateful.

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Dr Bhavana Gautam, MBBS, MHA, Emotional Wellbeing Coach, NLP Master Practitioner

Former-doubter, Current-healer, Forever-in awe of the world around me, Eternally-grateful.

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