I grew up in a family where weaknesses, instead of strengths, were the focus. My father communicated to me with put downs and sarcasm. Being very sensitive, I remember how hurtful it was. My mother was a yeller. As a parent myself, I now realize my parents did the best they could with what they had. Parents don’t wake up in the morning deciding to be bad parents! We all do the best we can with what we have. Parents genuinely want to be good parents and as parents, even though we mess up, we all have strengths that we bring into our parenting.
Upon reflecting on my childhood, I have learned both positive and negative lessons. It’s important to me to discard the bad and keep the good. For example, as a student with a learning disability, I struggled in math. I have fond memories of my dad and me at 5 in the morning reviewing my homework and test material. He taught me patience, determination and perseverance. My mother taught me to love, have faith and be committed in whatever I took on. I made a choice to focus on the positive attributes I learned growing up, and I am striving to build a strong foundation for my family.
With that said, I have not always been positive. Twelve years ago, my life was out of control. I was very overwhelmed with eight-year-old Gabrielle and her uncontrollable seizures. Then there was a precocious four-year-old Jared –and a newborn Jansen. Every day, I was getting a call from school that Gabrielle was having a seizure. Upon my arrival, with a preschooler and newborn in tow, there were police officers, fire fighters and paramedics in the classroom hovering over my child. This became a too- familiar scene for our family.
Our family was in constant crisis because we were living with someone we loved who had a chronic illness. Life was always disruptive and never predictable. My four-year-old was picking up on my anxiety and stress. He was angry and acting out. This was a wake-up call for me to seek help.
I was a stay-at-home mom and, when my husband got home, I was emotionally drained. Our house was in chaos, which was a reflection of my life. I was not happy and often times took it out on him. After several months of turmoil, I feared our family would not survive. I had heard that 80 percent of marriages end in divorce when raising a child with a disability. I did not want our family to be included in that statistic. I had to dig deep from within and find the strengths I had patience, determination, faith and commitment. I did not want my marriage to fail. I loved my husband and my children.
With hard work, utilizing my strengths, our family has learned to be resilient, intact and happy. Today, my focus is to help my children develop and recognize their own strengths.
My vision for my children is to grow up with positive self-esteem and confidence.
Today, I feel that I have developed coping strategies which help me to parent better. When my family and I draw upon our strengths, we are able to weather the storm with our resiliency and preserve a loving relationship.