6 Steps to Taking the Fear out of Finances

October starts this week.  A time of ghouls, ghosts, and goblins.  Kids are discussing who to go as for Halloween – if trick-or-treating is even going to be something they can do.  Fear is abundant as we look at the last quarter of the year, fiscal health for the holidays, and the fear of sickness.  All things scary. 

This month I am hoping to tackle some of the scary things I get asked about when it comes to parenting a special. The number one questions I am asked about is what happened when we found out about the life-changing diagnosis; I recommend checking out The Moment for more on that.

Today, I am going to attempt to tackle one of the scariest things people deal with in life – finances.  This is a constant fear for most, especially as the unemployment rate rises in America. I was blessed to have parents who taught me the value of work and a dollar.  Because of these lessons, I graduated with my undergraduate degree debt-free and paid off my student loans for graduate degree 2.5 years early.

Understanding finances starts young and should be taught in all households.  A good understanding of finances will lead to less stress, less debt, and a healthier economy.

How do you teach finances to children?  It can be hard, especially if you do not feel comfortable with finances in the first place.  So here are six steps we use with our kid to help him understand finances as he gets older.

1.       Talk about it: One of the most common things I hear from young adults is they do not know anything about finances.  And really, why should they? We stopped teaching it in schools and 62% of America is in credit card debt with 62% of credit card debtors as college graduates! I often encounter people who explain their collection accounts, late payments, and bankruptcy due to being “young and immature.”  This is really a claim of ignorance.  If we want our children to be out of debt, we have to teach them from the get-go.  We have to let them know that food they eat costs money, that light they are using costs money, and those clothes they like cost money.  That money only comes from hard work.  There is a balance.  Talk about it.

2.       Teach work ethic: Chores are an excellent way to teach work ethic.  Having chores for as long as I can remember, taught me to balance, allowed me to work multiple jobs in college while going to school time and a half (and having a social life), and how to creatively think through problems. Work ethic will benefit children, families, and communities.  Good work ethic is reflected in showing up on time and completing the task on time the right way with a good attitude.  This should be reflecting in their chores and school work.  Teaching these young will help ensure our children have this ingrained in them when they enter the workforce.  A good work ethic will lead to better opportunities through more recommendations, higher bonuses, and promotions. 

3.       Teach giving: This is essential and often left out of finance conversations. If you don’t want to give money, try volunteering. This is a great way to change perspective and priorities. Financial giving is financially sound. This helps encourage budgeting by helping you shift priorities.  We practice a 10% rule with my son.  It is an easy number mathematically for him to understand.  Whenever he gets money (for work done or as a gift), we immediately take 10% and save it for whatever he wants to give to.  Sometimes it is the church, sometimes it is the zoo, sometimes it is buying a meal for a homeless person.  He gets to pick.

4.       Teach saving: This one is hard for most people in our instantaneous world.  We are gratified instantly in almost all we do in the first world.  We watch as three bubbles pop up on a screen showing a response to our message. We can stream almost any movie and binge-watch entire seasons of shows.  Waiting is not something Americans, and most first-world people, are comfortable with.  Saving is something that can actually financially save you.  To help our little one, we also immediately take 10% of his money and put it into savings. This is what is used for unexpected expenses as adults (the car tire blew out or pipes blew).  This account can also be used to save for vacations, new toys, and special experiences.  Our son is saving toward a trip to Sea World to meet marine biologists and a loftier goal of adding a red panda exhibit to our local zoo. 

5.       Teach taxes: As a political scientist, I find teaching this concept is really difficult.  Taxes are often taken right out of the check upfront, so when you calculate a budget, this number is very important. Taxes are designed to pay for things like that pothole-free street you drive on daily.  Taxes pay for that public library and park you enjoy taking the kids to.  Taxes pay for those firefighters who fight fires so you don’t have to.  Taxes are helpful to each community.  Taxes are paid either upfront or on tax day, but they are paid.  We teach our son this but taking 10% of his income immediately and setting it aside in a Taxes account.  This way, when he breaks something in the house (which is inevitable), the money to fix it is there.  He paid his taxes, so that glass/towel rack/doorknob, etc. he broke can be replaced.  The household tax teaches him about the income tax and where that money should go. A great resource for kids on taxes and finances is Finances 101 for Kids: Money Lessons Children Cannot Afford to Miss.

6.       Teach budgeting: Budgeting is hard.  It takes self-control and patience.  When practiced regularly, it is actually quite easy and helps prevent that dreaded debt we all hate so much.  Teaching our children this valuable tool is life-changing. Budgeting ensures you always have enough money for what you need and those things that are important for you.  It also helps you shoot for a goal.  If your hourly $10.00 job is insufficient, it gives you a goal target for where you want to be.  Below is an excel spreadsheet that we use for our kiddo that helps.  It is filled in with an example. Sometimes seeing the budget in black and white helps change a concept to concrete practice.

For more ideas on how to help kids become the best they can be, take a look at my Facebook page.

6 Steps to the Right Balance of Independence and Growth

"Nothing is #impossible the word itself says I'm possible." #AudreyHepburn
“Nothing is impossible the word itself says I’m possible.” – Audrey Hepburn

What do toddlers, pre-teens, and teens all have in common?

They cry out for independence.  “Don’t help me!” “I can do it myself!”  “I’m not your little girl/boy anymore!”

Sound familiar? 

They are not wrong.  Kids can do so much more that we think they can.  So how do we know when to step in and when to let failure happen? How do you teach accountability and responsibility to children who think they know it all already?  Here are 6 tips I use in my household.

Photo by Gladson Xavier on Pexels.com

1.       Pick your battles:  I hate messes.  Call it a pet-peeve or OCD or what you like, but I like a clean, neat and tidy home.  My siblings (sorry guys) growing up and kiddo now, have other ideas of what home should feel like.  I learned early on as a parent, to pick my battles with my very strong-willed* child.  Now, when the room doesn’t get cleaned, I shut the door (out of sight out of mind) and my kid knows he doesn’t get to watch TV, play video games, play outside, create anything until the chores are done.  It has created a much more harmonious environment.

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

2.       Offer Choices:  When I was younger, my parents divided chores by age (ignored gender rules).  Occasionally they would re-arrange as family dynamics changed.  I liked this.  But recently came across a “Chore Market.”  (This works very similar to Silent Butler). What is that?  Much like the Stock Market, a Chore Market is when your children bid on chores they will do.  The catch?  Lowest bid wins and that is now their allowance. This is a great way to start teaching financial responsibility, family responsibility, work ethic, and start the conversation on investments as they get older.

Photo by Valeria Ushakova on Pexels.com

3.       Provide Flexibility:  Flexibility is a key to success.  This prevents kids from thinking they must be perfect all the time.  Perfection can be rehabilitating.  So, teach flexibility with deadlines.  One of my favorite practices in home school is offering a Fun Friday – this is a five-week school scheduled offered to be completed in four days, at their pace.  We do not set days for subjects to be taught, my son gets a weekly schedule and he can finish it at his own pace.  Some very motivated weeks, he does two weeks in one, and some weeks there is carry over to Fun Friday.  But, he has the flexibility to finish his tasks as he needs.

Japan’s Independent Kids

4.       Support Growth: This one is hard.  We always want to be the protection for our kids.  It is nature.  Reality is – we will not always be there for our kids.  We must support them.  When I was five, my mom took me on a mile walk from my house to my kindergarten class.  That was it.  After that walk, I was on my own for getting to and from school.  As my younger siblings joined, I became responsible for them as well.  Different times, I know.  But, really, not all that different.  Teaching kids how to play in the neighborhood, get to and from school, and ultimately fail at school or chores teaches independence and that we are all human and make mistakes.  

Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com

5.       Encourage healthy risk:  My son loves to cook!  But, he is also easily distracted.  But, when he asked to learn to cook his own breakfast at age seven, who was I to stop him?  So, he learned (first very closely supervised) how to make his own eggs.  This has now become gourmet eggs, sausage, and fruit in the morning.  After six months (I could have let go of the reigns sooner), he took over his own breakfast.  He knows makes all his meals except our family dinner.  But he also catches our family dinner often – taking responsibility for providing for our family.

Einstein was a Failure?

6.       Embrace Mistakes: We are not perfect!  Your kid will be less perfect than you.  Embrace the mistake.  Everyone spills milk.  Everyone burns a dish here and there.  Everyone skips to the back of the book at least once for the answers.  The trick is not to dwell on the negative and failure but to use that to encourage growth and learning.  As Einstein put it so well, “Failure is success in progress.”

Our kids are miraculous beings.  Our job is to help them see that – without inflating their ego. Finding a balance between independence and responsibility is hard.  But possible. The more we practice these steps the easier they become.  The more we encourage independence in a healthy way, the more our children will learn problem-solving, critical thinking, and fundamentals of life. 

How have you found this balance? What has worked?  What has failed? 

RESOURCES:

*If you have a strong-willed child, like mine, I really found Parenting a Strong-Willed Child: The Clinically Proven 5 week for parents of 2 to 6-year-olds by Rex Forehand and Nicholas Long to be very insightful.

5 Tips for Teaching Kids to Be More Independent

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

COVID-19 has brought parents and children of all ages closer together than ever before.  Working from home while being parent, teacher, entertainment, psychologist, and a doctor can be overwhelming and exhausting. 

Parents are tired. Parents are short-tempered.  Parents are at the end of their rope.

How do we move from exhausted to active parents?  We teach #independence.

According to a Psychology Today article, the difference between independent children and contingent children is simple. Contingent children are dependent on others for how they feel and think.  Independent children believe themselves to be capable and competent themselves. 

How do we set our children up for this success?

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

1.       Evaluate: Take stock of your situation.  How old is your child?  What environment are they in (sibling versus only child)? What age grouping is in the house? What abilities do they have?  What are the limitations?  How much time do you have to spend on a task?  Are you doing more as a parent than is needed?  Take honesty inventory of where you are as a family. Make sure all parents are on board.  This will fail if one or the other does not support the new plan.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

2.       Target Priorities: If this is a new change for you, it would be really easy to give all the tasks over to the child right away.  I caution you away from this.  This will fail.  Target your priorities focusing on one thing at a time.  A younger child should focus on things like getting dressed on their own (yes, let them pick their own clothes and dress themselves) and brush their teeth.  Young elementary should focus on things like cleaning their room and cleaning up their messes. Older children can learn how to do laundry, do the dishes, sweep and mop.  (Later this month we will talk more about chores).

Photo by Anastasiya Gepp on Pexels.com

3.       Forget perfection: You will always do the chores in your house better than your child.  You have had years more practice.  This is not the time to point out all the flaws and imperfections.  Use this as teachable moments.  If milk spills, teach how to clean up and remind the child it happens to everyone.  They put the dish in the wrong place, remind them where it goes without criticism.  The time for constructive criticism is when they have been working on the task and “mastered” it; not while they learn it.

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

4.       Praise Something – but not everything: Teaching responsibility is hard.  It is even harder on the child who thinks all a parent does is point out the failings. Praise goes a long way.  Authentic appreciation goes a long way. Americans, in particular, believe that we get praised for everything. A trophy for participation.  An “A” for effort.  But this leads to self-entitlement and arrogance.  When we praise everything, praise means less.  Praise success.  Praise hard work.  Those things will get repeated.  This positive re-enforcement will help with accountability, responsibility, and follow through as you increase the workload or the difficulty of the task.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

5.       Circumstance Matters: Sick, tired, stressed affect adults’ quality and production. Expected this from our children too.  Let them take a day off if they need it.  Help out with a task if they need it.  Don’t rush to solve minor problems.  Let them problem solve.  Give them a chance to figure out a solution.  This shows them you have faith in their ability. 

Independence is essential to becoming a productive adult.  Our job as parents is to raise kids into quality members of society.  We will not always be there for our kids.  Let’s use this time to teach them they are capable of. Let’s teach them they are confident.  Let’s teach them it’s ok to fail, but not quit.  Let’s teach them perfection is not the goal – success is the goal.

Find Something Worth Dying For

“You can’t trust kids these days.”  “They never do what you ask.”  “Kids always talk back.”  “Kids today don’t know how to follow through.”  “If it doesn’t require a social media post, don’t count on your kid to do it.”

Sound familiar? 

I have worked with youth and their parents for more than 20 years.  I hear the same things time and time again from parents, youth leaders, coaches, and the like.

But, in my experience, kids act this way because of the models they have.  In my experience someone meaningful in their lives is absent (maybe spends 60 hours a week at work or just not there at all).  Someone may be in their life but has broken promise after promise.  That weekend promised to teach them to ride a bike or go see them in the school play comes and goes with an apology only.

Children are taught how to behave by adults in their lives. Great children are taught to be great adults by adults who invest in them. It is that simple. 

I was lucky to be raised by a man who worked long hours during the day and went to school at night.  But, every school play, every graduation, every school assembly growing up, if I asked, Daddy would be there.  

Daddy taught me three significant lessons that have instilled in me the very foundations of who I am and how I raise my little one.  These lessons are at the very core of what it is to be me.  These lessons are what I hope to pass on to all those young kids who come into my life.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Honor Those Who Came Before You

There is no one in the entire history of the world who accomplished great things on their own.  Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Martha Tereasa all built on pioneers like Martin Luther, Thurgood Marshall, and John Weasley.

Women today have the right to vote, to work in respectable jobs, and to be educated in the United States because of people like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

American freedoms, the very foundation, were built on the hard work and determination of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson who tirelessly worked together writing not just the Declaration of Independence, but researching every known government in preparation for the Congressional Congress created our Republic.

Great-great-great Granddad John Adams, though admittedly opposed to the rule of law of the day, represented the British soldiers accused of the Boston Massacre to ensure they received a fair trial successfully negotiated the Treaty of Paris (ending the American Revolutionary War), and went on to be the first American Vice President, Second President and his son became the fourth President. 

These men denied everything, fighting for life and liberty, for a world that NEVER existed before.  In fact, it took over 20 years, war, and near collapse of a nation under the Articles of Confederation from the Declaration of Independence to the signing of the US Constitution and the birth of American freedoms.  Our nation, imperfect as it is, was the first in the world to allow basic human freedoms to the average citizen. 

When I look back at my accomplishments (graduate degrees, excellent job, published, author, award-winning public speaker), I know that those accomplishments are a direct result of those who invested in me.  My parents, my coaches, the amazing adults who poured into me through Youth Focus, Inc. all impacted not only my success, but the trajectory of my life.

Daddy taught me, not only to be aware of this, but to thank and acknowledge those who invested their time, money, and energy into me.  Thank you, Coaches, Mr. & Mrs. S; Mr. and & Mrs. G, Shim, and Brandy, Florence, Carl and Mary Carol, Patty, and most importantly, Mom and Dad. Your efforts have helped create the amazing life I have.  I could not have done this without you.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

               Let Your Yes Be Your Yes and Your No Be Your No

Daddy taught us, no matter what, yes is yes.  Sounds easy.  But in a world where we glorify a social hierarchy that loves self-image, self-entitlement, and immediacy, this is a hard thing to grasp as a kid.

Simply put, if you make a commitment, follow through.  If you said you would help you kid sister learn to ride a bike, but the lead cheerleader invites you to a party, you help your sister.  If you said you would watch your little siblings so Mom and Dad can have a date night once a week, you do that instead of going to the weekly football games.  It means, if you said you were committing to the school play, track team, debate team (pick a team), you follow through with your best the entire season long – especially when it gets hard.

This allows everyone to trust your word – the very basis of integrity.  People will know they can count on you in the big things because you showed up in the small things every day.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

               Find Something Worth Dying For and Go Live For It

The most important lesson Daddy taught me is to “Find something worth dying for, and to live for it.”

That has been Daddy’s motto for as long as I can remember.  And when you think about, it is perfect for finding and understanding your calling.

A key characteristic of leadership is the belief in the cause.  The causes that pass the 24-hour news cycle, are those whose leaders are willing to walk the walk, and lay down their life, if need be.  IF we want to raise excellent leaders, we need to know what their passions are and help teach them how to cultivate them for good.

As our children grow, we often ask them, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” or “What are you going to study in college?”  But these do not get to the root of a person’s passion.  Passion is what will keep one motivated through the dark woods of real life.  Passion is what will change a weak leader to a strong leader.

Instead, let’s ask our children, “What excites you?” or “What gets you fired up?”  “What are some things that you want to change?”  When they tell us, regardless of what we believe about those passions, celebrate them.  Help them cultivate them. Because they will find a way with or without your help. Use the opportunity to help lead and teach them to be the best at whatever they chose.

These questions will start leading our kids to find their passions so that they may LIVE for them. 

This #fathersday week, let us honor those who came before us.  Let us stay true to our word.  Let us find those things worth dying for, and go live for them.  Let us be the beginning of positive change for our children. 

Silent Butler

Frustrated parent at work, home, teleworking, homeschooling at the same time.  Arms on head looking frustrated.
Frustrated parent at work – teleworker -home

Most of the world has been operating within the realm of the same four walls for the majority of the year.  Those in America have been at this at least a month, some longer. 

Day after day I hear the same exhausted frustrations of parents: “My kids are driving me crazy!  I keep repeating myself.  I feel like all I do is nag!”

Well, you are not alone.  We all get there (even in the best of circumstances).  The question is do we stay there or do we something to fix it?

For my family, we do something to fix it. 

Let me introduce you to one of our best friends and colleagues – Silent Butler.

Male servant preparing a bath at luxury hotel
Butler preparing a bath

Before you freak on the price tag, this friend has given his services for FREE.  This is so simple it will shock you.

How many of you have asked your kid to clean their room, only to find it hasn’t been completed or everything has been shoved under the bed/in the closet/crammed into drawers?

Out of exasperation, you now beginning the powerplay of taking things away, the battle of either teaching to clean (or, be honest) doing it yourself. By the end of the day, everyone is tired, you don’t want to be around each other and you just feel defeated?

Enter Silent Butler.

Man sneaking a peak behind white shutters
Man sneaking a peak behind white shutters

Instead of going through that battle, hold your child accountable.  An easy way to do that is a large plastic laundry basket (we use this one).

When your child says the room is clean.  OK.  Great.  Go play.

Then take the basket, and fill it with all things left on the floor, under the bed, in the closet, out away incorrectly.  (NOTE: You must have taught the proper way to clean a room and what Silent Butler prior is to implementing Silent Butler).

All those toys, books, TABLETS, video games, etc., that they claim to love so much, but do not treat as though they do, are now in the possession of Silent Butler.

But don’t worry, this is not forever!

When your child does something good, unexpected, helpful, you just ring the bell for Silent Butler.  Things like helping a sibling with homework without being asked, picking up the dog poo or doing the dishes, (for those on the spectrum) having a good playdate or losing a game without a single reminder of good sportsmanship all can trigger Silent Butler. 

The important thing is that it matches where your child is (age, mental ability) and it cannot be a chore already assigned as part of their daily routine.

When you ring that bell, Silent Butler rolls out once again.  Only this time, instead of taking, our Butler is giving.  The child can take one toy out of the basket. They have earned it back.

TWIST * TWIST * TWIST

Girls at desk looking at notebook helping with homework
Girls help each other with homework

For those with siblings, this becomes particularly effective.  There are no rules on whose toys are picked when Silent Butler rewards.

This means if Suzy left her tablet on the floor in her room when she was told to put it away, and Johnny earned a Silent Butler reward, Johnny can pick Suzy’s tablet. 

What does this teach?

I know you are wondering why use this method?  It seems sneaky and rude.  Well, that is true.  But so is the world. 

As parents, we are tasked with raising children into quality adults who contribute to society in positive ways and are aware that the world is not rainbows and butterflies.

This teaches so much:

1.       Responsibility: Whose tablet?  Whose responsibility?  Whose homework?  Whose responsibility?  When you shirk your responsibilities, someone else will swoop in and fix it AND get the credit. Silent Butler begins as Positive Punishment/Negative Reinforcer.

2.       Teamwork/Family building: Working in a family is the first practice of teamwork.  We are teaching children what it means to be on the team by showing them responsibility falls on everyone.  When we reward good extra behavior, it acts as a positive reinforcer that modifies the negative behavior.  Silent Butler is now a Negative Punishment/Positive Reinforcer.

3.       Integrity: What is done when no one is watching will be seen.  What is done in secret will be shouted from the rooftops.  All secrets come out.  That is why integrity is so important.  It is who you are when no one is watching (or you think no one is watching) that ultimately defines your character. 

4.       Accountability: Teaching accountability starts with parents.  I have said this before practice what you preach. You must hold yourself accountable to follow through, kind words, and tones, working as a team.  Once this is done, Silent Butler teaches that all kids are held accountable for their actions all the time.  Silent Butler is ALWAYS in play.  Both the good and the bad.

Before and after: messy room to clean room and ready to play
Before and after Silent Butler – now it only takes 20 minutes to clean a room not a day.

This is a simple idea that when put into practice can help SAVE MONEY on those reinforcers, help create a POSITIVE and HARMONIOUS environ for everyone in the house, and ultimately, help create HONEST, RESPONSIBLE adults to help create positive change in the world.

I encourage you test this out in your own homes.  Give it a couple weeks.  Track your progress and setbacks (there will be setbacks as with all changes).  And let me know how this works for you.  Don’t be afraid to share this blog with others you think might benefit from the simple induction of my friend Silent Butler. 

You have this. You are good parent.  You are a good teacher.  You are a good coach.  You are good leader. 

***Disclaimer: I did not come up with this idea AT ALL.  I was raised with this. The credit all goes to my parents who successfully raised 7 children and numerous “family friends” with to the sum of all six entrepreneurs, a lawyer, two opera singers, (one lawyer waiting taking his first bar), over fifteen degrees, all are fully employed, and the creation of two non-profits. 

The Moment

When one pictures parenthood they see themselves as perfect parents with perfect kids. Children will be well behaved and, if all goes according to plan, will be captain of the football team or dance diva and go to the best colleges on a full ride. Parenthood is supposed to be filled with lots of girl scout cookies and football games. (Don’t believe me, just get a load of the Netflix show Yummy Mummies!)

No one expects news from the pediatrician, “Your child has some special needs.” Cancer. Downs Syndrom. Autism. Those scary words are not on the top 100 of what you want to hear from the doctor. I have heard it described as a feeling of being put in shackles.

Immediately upon hearing that your child will have more needs than a “streamlined” “average” “normal” child, your life changes. You enter the grieving period. You grieve the football star. You grieve the dance recital. You grieve the sleepovers and parties. You grieve a life you planned for your kid…and yourself.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. These are the five stages of grief. As a parent with special needs, you will (and we did) go through all of these stages…again and again. But, I would argue, every parent goes through these stages over something about their children.

I know parents who grieved because their child didn’t grow up to the NFL football star. I know parents who grieved because their child chose college instead of military service (and viseversa). I know parents who grieved the loss of children. With children (and here is the part they don’t tell you), you will grieve…at some point…over something. Anyone who says something different is selling something.

That can’t be right!

Denial

When my husband found out our little guy had Autism denial was the word of the day. He blamed our son’s behavior on teachers and babysitters. He blamed the delay on lack of routine due to deployments. Autism just could not be true; not for his son…not for our family. Surely the doctor was wrong…surely there was a need for a second opinion…surely this life long diagnosis was not meant for our family.

I came into the picture later in our son’s life. Children were never really a part of what I thought my family life would include. So, as marriage was a packaged deal, I skipped to step six. But many of my friends have told me story after story of denial. It is from their stories that I write today.

Frustration overload

Anger

Hubby never really got angry. He skipped the next two steps…once he came around.

Anger is something I can relate to. With Autism there is never a dull a moment. For every two steps forward, with every small change, one can “regress” four steps back. This gets old fast.

This stage of grief comes in waves for me.

When I see my son make so much progress and then we get orders to move and behaviors I thought we had overcome a long time ago come back; when hormones begin to hit and my son has more challenging behaviors; when no one comes to his birthday party because he is considered the “strange” kid; when no one wants to babysit because they do not understand the diagnosis I get angry. I get angry at the diagnosis. I get angry at life. I get angry at me for not knowing how to better understand or handle a situation. I even, yep, I get angry at God for allowing something like this.

Now, please don’t hear this as life is angry. It is in no way angry. These are just stages that we go through as life molds and changes with us. We have learned to celebrate life. But I would be lying if I said I never got angry over the reality of life with special needs.

What if…

Bargaining

For some of my friends the bargaining starts with God. “God, if you take this from me, I will go back to church” or “God, if you take this from me, I will volunteer more in my kid’s classroom and be a better parent.”

My husband and I both skipped this step. Perhaps because he is logical and just deals with life as it comes and I already believe God has the best plan for me to give me a hope and future. But this stage is often a long-lived stage.

Depression….took second place at State Champions

Depression

When I found out that my little guy had autism…well, I did not deny at first…I skipped to the sixth step. But when I realized his nieces and nephews of the same age were joining sports teams and having play dates and birthday parties, I jumped to depression.

The life of a parent with special needs is a lonely life. People, in general do not understand (or do not want to) the reality of life with special needs.

Many times, when I would reach out to family and good friends, I learned quickly that many challenges with special needs need to be faced alone within our immediate family. Instead of support, I learned we got pity, ignorance, and family and friends withdraw. You quickly learn who your true friends are…and they are few and far between.

For me, add in being a military wife and moving every few years, I have found finding friends and keeping them to be much harder.

A complete family

Acceptance

This is sort of where I came into the process. Because my husband and son are a packaged deal, I just came to terms with the fact that my life was forever changed by the sweetest and most challenging kid I could ever imagine.

It was at this stage I started researching.

I researched what caused Autism (spoiler alert – NO ONE KNOWS). I researched cures for Autism. Guess what? There is none. I researched what effects those with Autism and how to make life easier for them.

There is so much out there! From ABA therapy to diets to vitamins, this field is young but connected. I have learned so much!

One in fifty-nine children, according to the CDC, has Autism. Autism occurs in all races, ethnicities and socio-economic classes. It is the fastest growing diagnosis in America. But it is also the least studied. Yet, nowhere in the research did it say this was a life-ending diagnosis. Nowhere did the research say life stops because of this diagnosis. Nowhere in the research did it say this was the person.

With a variety of tactics and lifestyle changes, my family is more and more healthy because of this diagnosis. We eat better. We spend more time together. We even communicate better – believe it or not.

For those wanting to know right away what we did to get my son from not talking to talking or from not being able to hold a broom to hitting a tennis ball with a baseball bat, I promise to share.

The Moment

For those who just found out their child has a special need or life-threatening condition, it is a process. No one expects you to have all the answers. And the stages will come and go in waves…if you are anything like me.

But, you are NOT alone! No longer should we be a community that hides away. Reach out for help. If you’re angry, be angry. If you are scared and depressed, reach out! No one should have to walk through life alone.

Man is not an island. There are probably more people than you know in your life touched by this need or that need. Go for a cup of coffee and vent or watch a good documentary or enjoy listening to the problems of others (believe me, it really helps to know you are not the only one with problems!)

But, please, don’t let the circumstances of life dictate how you live it. You are the rudder of your ship. You get to choose which way you go.

Choose life. Choose hope. Choose joy.

Celebrate Life

Being the middle of seven children, I have seen the gambit in behaviors. Everything from stitches and fights to games of “War” and dances. I have been blessed to always have a sibling on my side when life turns a sour leaf and family around for holidays…and sometimes when I don’t want them.

But, not everyone is as blessed.

Special needs children are one of the largest groups of children in America…and unfortunately, one of the most often forgotten and ostracized. Many hear the words “special needs” or “Autism” or “Down Syndrome” and immediately think “stupid,” “hard,” and “pity.”

They could not be farther from the truth!

Our little bundle of joy was diagnosed with Autism at age three. And, like all parents who hear that, there was some fear and trepidation (a discussion for another time). At the time, and up until he was about five, our kiddo did not speak. There was loud screams, throwing, tantrums and the like because speech communication was not possible. Getting dressed was a chore as he could not put socks on by himself much less zip a zipper to his pants or button his jacket.

Hard. Yes. But, do I need to be pitied? NO!

You see when my son first started to say small sentences – PURE JOY! When he started to be able to zip his pants – JUBILATION! When he started to got straight A’s having to be pulled from class on a daily basis for doctor’s appointments – PRIDE would be an understatement. I even told my husband my kid was the smartest because he did what streamlined kids did in half the time!

What living with a special needs kid has taught me is… [Read more…]

25550143_10155808483556142_2522427214469481469_n

1. Celebrate Life

In our day and age, it is really easy to get down and out. We are inundated with negative thoughts and reality. News broadcasts deliver only negative news and life hits hard when it hits. Seeing the negative is like pouring a cup of coffee – most of us do it without even thinking.

Living with Autism teaches celebration of life. When you can constantly find growth it is easy to be optimistic. When you can see that life is not in a diagnosis but a person it is easy to enjoy the beauty of a hand-painted birdhouse or a freshly made pot of coffee.

Life is about teamwork. And when you have a great team (my husband is a rock star!) the support makes life that much more colorful and brilliant.

43055501_10156528769791142_1288781623805870080_o

2. Enjoy the Little Things

I will admit there are days when life feels like it will sucker punch me every chance it gets. But who’s life doesn’t do that? Living with special needs does not mean that life is easier or harder than for anyone else. It just means we (those of us who have special needs in our lives) face different challenges.

So, like every other family, we celebrate the little things.

We celebrate cutting a straight line. We celebrate our little one talking and playing WITH a peer. We celebrate the full sentence. We celebrate jokes.

These little celebrations may seem little but they are HUGE accomplishments. And they remind us that we are more than scary words. Doctors do not always know best. Just like with every other kid, our kid is more than the sum of his doctors’ visits and school meetings.

17212145_10154950757971142_3958740544222602206_o

3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Prior to special needs, I would sweat the small stuff. Little things like my sister not emptying the lint trap in our family dryer or how much the scale tipped when I stepped on it were heavy weights on my shoulders.

Autism taught me life is more than the small stuff. There are bigger things to worry about in life like family, doctors, and school.

If it is a choice between my son thumb sucking while focusing on homework or throwing a tantrum because he does not want to do homework, guess which one I am ignoring?

If it is a choice between not reading and reading a comic book, guess which one I am telling his teacher he gets to read?

If it is a choice between rocking in his seat and being quiet or jumping out of it screaming, “Pick me! Pick Me!”, guess which one I am telling the teacher to ignore?

There are big battles and small battles and some battles you just don’t fight. Special needs have taught me how to better see the difference.

25446097_10155808485071142_794937375179414279_n

4. Don’t Miss Out!

I know many families in the special needs world. Many on the Autism Spectrum. A lot of families think this diagnosis is an end-all to life as a family. Many do not leave the home…ever. Vacation – thing of the past. Trips – never going to happen. Movies – dream on!

When the word “Autism” came into our lives, our son was not talking, not potty-trained, screamed 90% of the time, was very hyperactive and threw tantrums that would make The Hulk look like a mouse. But, we made the choice early on to not let the diagnosis dictate our lives. We made the choice to hold our son to the same standards as any other child and not let his diagnosis be his crutch.

(I know I hit a nerve with some of you just now. I know there is a spectrum and big trips are hard. I know about Regressive Autism. I know first hand about the challenges of tantrums, non-verbals, and the complete difficulty it is to even get childcare for a couple hours of respite. I understand the reason some families choose to stay home. No judgment. It is just not what we chose.)

We chose to take our son out in public to things like museums, theme parks, and, yes, movies.

We did not do this without a plan. We made sure to follow all applicable guidance. But we did discover, that for our kiddo, the exposure helped with social situations, speech, and relationships.

We have a don’t miss out mentality that has served us well.

50878353_10156772380841142_1424680359055851520_o28129

5. Make Time

It is easy to forget to set time aside for yourself in a regular run-of-the-mill-under-the-radar kind of life. But add in multiple weekly doctors appointments in different cities on different days, school IEP’s, parent-teacher conferences and regular life of working full-time and it becomes really easy to forget about yourself and your family.

I don’t mean you forget your family. What I mean is that it is easy to forget to spend quality time with them.

We have learned that time apart each day whether in a workout, reading a book or playing a video game (yes, I said it) is essential to sanity!

We have learned that game nights, arts and crafts and reading together unite us beyond diagnosis and beyond the stress of the battle.

We have learned that date night does not always (and usually doesn’t need) a sitter. We enjoy a movie night in front of the fire with a glass of wine. We enjoy reading to each other. We enjoy sitting out in the hot tub and talking about life. None of these cost a lot of money. None of these require a baby sitter. And all are an essential investment in our marriage.

More to Life

So, does special needs mean a life of hard work? Yes! But whose life is not hard? Does it mean my life is different than most? Yes, but who wants a normal life? Does it mean I am to be “pitied?” No! If nothing else, I have been blessed beyond most. I have learned more than most. I have enjoyed life more than most.

Don’t let the diagnosis stop you from loving and living life. Don’t let a diagnosis of others scare you off from participating in their life. Don’t let the social understanding of special needs (which is highly lacking and often a misrepresentation) be your understanding of them. Be open. Be honest. Be willing. Your life will never be the same again.