Joseph’s life, told in
Genesis, is a reminder that life can be really tough and can make no sense at
times. Yet, he chose to be intentional, and even had the insight to see that
what his brothers had meant for evil and harm to him, God intended for good to
save many people.
Joseph was dropped
into the pit, taken into captivity, mistreated, wrongfully accused, put into
prison, neglected and left there to die. He had every reason to think life made
no sense. Joseph was intentional, even when life made no sense. When he was in
prison, he was very intentional with his life. After many long and difficult
opportunities, the tables turned and his brothers who had sold him into slavery
came to him to ask for help.
With his brothers standing
in front of him and fearful for their lives, Joseph said to them, “Don’t be
afraid. Am I in the place of God?” (Note that powerful statement.) He said,
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” That’s Intentional
This is the point when
many people reject God because it just doesn’t make any sense. But Joseph was
intentional in five ways that I think are important for us to consider.Don’t get stuck.
Don’t get stuck.
Joseph made the
decision of how he was going to live his life. He chose to trust God in the
pit, in front of Potiphar’s wife and while in jail. No matter what he faced, he
refused to become stuck.
Honor your family,even if they don’t honor you.
His brothers kicked
Joseph squarely in the teeth, and he honored them. He had every reason to
follow the principles of boundaries. He could have said, “I’m putting
boundaries in place, and you go starve where you are.” Yet, he opened his heart
and his life and cared for them.
In our family
relationships, it’s easy sometimes to write people off as the people who have
hurt us. We need to have boundaries in place, but we need to still have a sense
of honor, care and concern for people, including those who may have wronged us.
Forgiveness is hard to
do when we’ve been in stuck moments in life where it’s easy for us to blame
others for things that have happened. But Joseph was willing to truly forgive.
Accept there is a bigger plan at work in your
We often see life
through little lenses, and if we study scripture, we can understand we are part
of something much bigger. God loves us, but He has a plan in place that I’m a
piece of and you’re a piece of. As we understand we are playing a part God has
for us, that allows us to get above it, and not see everything through our own
The Bible says, “For
all things work together for good to those who are called according to his
purpose (Romans 8:28). Joseph had good things come out of this, because he was
called according to God’s purpose. He was right in the place where God wanted
him to be. Many times, bad things happen to us, because we have messed up.
When life makes no
sense, you have to ask the question, “Does it make no sense because I put
myself here, or does God have something bigger and better going on than I don’t
quite understand? Am I in the middle of His purpose?” When we’re in the middle
of God’s purpose, then life can start to make sense even when it does not on
Joseph not only forgave
his brothers, but then he acted. He took care of his brothers and their
families. That’s taking what we say we believe and acting on it every day.
Whatever you are going
through, we love you and want the best for you. The decisions you make are
going to make a difference. What you do next will impact what happens next.
That’s why there is so much power in doing the next right one thing. I pray you
will choose to be obedient to what scripture teaches and submit to the fact
that God may have something going on that is bigger than you can imagine.
After infidelity, the betrayed spouse goes through intense emotions. The hurt, bewilderment, anger and numbing shock are overwhelming. There’s normally accelerated anger from the betrayed spouse which causes them to vent their rage. Although they should be granted the freedom to do so, it is important to choose the verbalized words carefully.
The strenuous stress contributes to a flood of adrenaline in the body. It is during this reaction that the betrayed spouse can do anything to hurt back the betrayer. This is the most sensitive time which determines where the relationship will end up. It can be the beginning of marriage recovery or the end.
During this period, the last thing the betrayer should do is react with anger. Instead, they should allow their spouse the space to vent while they maintain an apologetic attitude. This will help calm the situation to a point where a decent discussion is possible.
What to avoid:
The betrayed –
Avoid any physical confrontation with either your spouse or the person they cheated with. Sometimes stepping down to your betrayers level might turn the table making you seem like the evil one.
Do not jump into the option of property damage. It will do you no good and might land you into a lawsuit. You have loads of emotional healing to deal with. Don’t add any more.
Take some time away if you can. It will help you heal and make sound decisions on the next steps you want to take.
The betrayer –
You have violated marital vows and solid trust. Avoid any form of arrogance towards your spouse. A kind, polite attitude during this time will go a long way.
This is your time to make amendments since you’ve been caught pants down. Try an honest approach with the questions your spouse has. Remember you’ve been caught because she/he had some information.
There’s no need to hide bits of it from your already injured spouse at this point. Your precious relationship is shattered into pieces. There’s nothing left to protect. Nothing will injure your spouse more than being subtly deceived on top of your act.
Trying to hide what they already know is clear indication that you intend to protect and cover up your rendezvous. If you do not wish to continue and you honestly desire to save your marriage, tell it like it is. Your spouse already knows the truth anyway. Deceit has done no good to your marriage. It definitely will not rebuild the broken one.
Questions to Expect From the Betrayed Spouse:
These questions are almost guaranteed after the first surge of anger. What happened? When did it happen? How long has this been going on? Do you love her/him? Men are said to want details of the sexual activity.
No matter how awkward the question, do not squelch the information. Most women are known to calm down when they realize their spouse isn’t trying to fool them any further.
After the Interrogation:
The wounded spouse now has the power to call the shots. If she/he intends to save the marriage, she/he will try to work things out positively. However, it all depends on the violations picked from the betrayer.
It is crucial that both spouses work together from one level. The possibilities of falling off the marriage wagon at this point are very high. There must be some mutual understanding and support. The betrayer must work hard to rebuild trust while the wounded spouse must create the opportunity and show support
Expectations in Rebuilding your Marriage:
Although there’s an open window for rebuilding your marriage, the emotional turmoil from infidelity is not anywhere close to over. There’s going to be a recurrence of certain things like grief, suspicions and sometimes accusations.
When this happens, the best thing to do is to reassure the grieving spouse that it will never happen again. As time goes by, the relationship will begin to get stronger and trust might eventually kick in.
What to Avoid:
Having an opportunity to rebuild a broken marriage should not be taken for granted. It’s more like walking on glass until the solidarity is once again proven. For example, if the betrayer is a man, the last thing he would want to do is continue visiting bars and showing up late in the night.
Such behaviors will keep the woman in a grieving state. She will not be able to move on and forgive because she thinks her spouse is still running around with the woman he cheated with. This will push her limits and eventually she will completely give up on the marriage. The same goes to a man betrayed by his wife – which isn’t unusual nowadays.
Things happen and temptations are always present. Infidelity for the most part is normally premeditated. The will to walk out of it depends entirely on the betrayer. If they arrogantly continue the deception, the betrayed spouse is left with two options. To either live with that pain for the rest of their lives or completely shut the door.
I personally don’t encourage people to divorce but nobody should live an unhealthy life due to stress-related illnesses just to hold a marriage together. Life is short and should be lived at its best. Every married couple need to understand that they can love their spouse but cannot control the decisions they make.
The only option is to commit the relationship to God. His Holy Spirit will always guide you into the right direction. My conclusion? Pray for each other. l have never known of couples who pray together going through wreckage. Please take time and read about forgiveness in marriage here. Good luck with your marriage.
IF YOU’RE FEELING LIKE YOU MARRIED THE WRONG PERSON…
Do you feel like you married the wrong person? I encourage you to take an honest look inside yourself if that’s the way you feel today. You may never voice it. You may just hold it inside and wonder about it. I’m not asking the question, did you marry the wrong person. I am not advocating divorce. The truth—if we are transparent today—is that this thinking is a reality thousands of Christians struggle with each day.
That’s why the intentional living message is so desperately needed to speak to the Christian mind and heart today. Intentional love says, “I’m going to be patient, long suffering, and practice all of the fruit of the spirit. I’m going to do the things that the scripture teaches us to do.”
It’s about what you think, how you feel, and what you do in terms of your marriage. I have shared three phases to a successful marriage below in hopes of helping you be more intentional about your relationship with your spouse. If you’re not married but thinking of getting involved in a new relationship, this information can help you as you make decisions toward a successful marriage.
1. You have to care for yourself.
Healthy people tend to marry other healthy people. The healthier you are—physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally—the better choices and decisions you can make for your life. Don’t go to step two until you are 100% healthy in every area of your life. Don’t assume you can move forward and then come back to step one to get healthy later. It’s very difficult to go back.
2. You have to care for your decision.
That means be very careful before you say, “I’m going to marry this person.” Assuming you’re a healthy person, make sure your decision is based on:
knowing their heart
really having a shared vision
spending time praying together
being in agreement on spiritual things, sexual things, finances, parenting and children and careers.
Don’t marry a person if there are serious unresolved issues. Never assume that person is going to change. Don’t think that things are going to be better tomorrow, because truthfully that is not very likely.
So you’ve got to care for yourself, and then you’ve got to care for your decision. By the time you get to phase three—after you’ve said, “I do”—then it’s time to care for your marriage.
3. You have to care for your marriage.
It’s time to care for the person that you married and care for yourself within that marriage. I think there are two biblically based things that we need to do. First, we need to practice what I call intentional love. 1st Corinthians 13 speaks of that. Then we need to practice active respect.
Intentional ONE THING Challenge
If you could do ONE THING and know that it would make a significant, lasting, possibly life-changing difference in your life, would you do it? Dr. Carlson shares the power of ONE THING and why you should get started doing your ONE THING today.
Marriage is beautiful when everything is running smoothly. However, things happen and disagreement can easily elevate. When this happens, it’s ok to ventilate anger so long as you don’t tear each other up. The best way to avoid this is to focus the conflict on the issue around which disagreements began.
No matter how hard you may try to love and please each other, failure is inevitable. With failure comes hurt and the only ultimate relief is forgiveness. To have a happy and intimate marriage, you both must be quick to seek and grant forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the Key:
For this reason, marriage requires forgiveness more than any other relationship you’ve had. You cannot have a happy marriage if you’re proud. When you and your spouse fail each other, you enter in a battlefield. Your marriage gets tested during these intense emotional rollercoaster. Quite frankly, the way you handle arguments will determine where your marriage is headed.
When people hear of a need for forgiveness in marriage; Their first guess is love triangle. But that’s not the only hurdle in marriage. As a matter of fact, some marriages do not have infidelity issues. Minor disagreements do create problems and thus the need to be able to apologize and forgive.
People find it hard to apologize because they feel like it portrays weakness. Although it can be humbling, it is also a strong act to beat pride. I remember in my first years of marriage; l found it difficult to apologize. My husband ended up taking the blame for both our mistakes.
I knew he did it to restore peace but l took Advantage of him. This began to take a toll on our marriage. Luckily I’m a praying woman, l got down on my knees and the Holy Spirit revealed my weaknesses to me. My eyes were opened to the damage l had caused.
Past Experiences Can Hurt your Marriage:
Did you know that most personal problems which dominates our personality were triggered by a bad experience from our past? I had subconsciously brought my past hurts into my marriage. My husband and friends say l have a humble personality. I don’t think it is of any benefit to me but I’m glad others find it appealing.
This personality had opened doors to many gruesome experiences in the hands of someone l trusted. Aware of my past pain, my husband wanted to help heal my wounds. He apologized when l was wrong just to clear things out.
Now l know the importance of not placing any burden on my spouse. A lesson that helped shape my marriage; and one l love to share with others. No matter what happened in the past, never overload your present relationship with past burdens. My marriage grew out of it, but not everyone can get through too much pressure.
Patience Goes a Long Way:
If my husband had not forgiven me for the burden of fear and mistrust, our marriage would not have survived. I remember how he held me in his arms and reminded me that he will never lay a finger on me; and assured my safety with him. It took a while for me to wake up to the fact that my past was behind me forever.
I don’t think it was fair for him to clean up all that mess. But l sure do thank God for his patience, kindness and will to forgive; A must have combination for all marriages. My purpose for giving a glimpse into my life is to encourage all married couples.
Don’t Give Up!
If you are going through difficulties, get to the bottom of things. It will help you figure out the originality of your existing conflict. You may be married to the best person. Help them out of whatever it is that suffocates them. You might discover a true jewel covered in mad. If you take time to rinse it off.
If you choose forgiveness, avoid revisiting the sensitive discussion you already stepped out of. Forgive and move on because no one is perfect. When in conflict, do not forget that your relationship with your spouse is far more important than winning an argument or being right. Be quick to forgive and own up your own mistakes. Good luck with your marriage.
If there’s infidelity taking place, find out what you can do to overcome the pain here
The world is in a race to the bottom. Living a Christian life is
not easy. Those who are in the church, “Christian couples,” statistically are
not all that much different than those outside the church when it comes to
divorce and unfaithfulness. That’s a real indictment. We wonder why we are
impotent in our church, in our faith and in our communities. But the truth is
that many are just not living it. That’s why this intentional living message is
so desperately needed in the Christian mind and heart today.
1 Corinthians 13 is often referred to as The Love Chapter, and
it gives us a glimpse of what intentional love is from God’s perspective. Verses
2 and 3 say, And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all
mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove
mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and
if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
When you discover that negative feelings toward your spouse are
building up… When you become disappointed with your spouse and their
behavior… that’s the time to focus on intentional love. Intentional love
figures out what will please Christ in each situation and then does that very
Intentional Love says:
I’m not only going to
think of my own interests but the interest of the other person.
I will be patient.
I choose to be kind and
I will practice all of
the fruit of the spirit.
I’m determined to do the
things that the scripture teaches me to do.
I will change my head, my
heart and my hands.
Again, I said the Christian life isn’t easy. And choosing to
respond with intentional love is difficult. Does that mean your spouse is going
to change? Does it mean your marriage will be great and you’re never going to
experience divorce? Not necessarily. Intentional love is not about trying to
change your spouse. Your decision should be because that’s what the Bible
teaches you to do, and it pleases Christ.
Wherever you are in your desire for a successful marriage, I
pray you will practice intentional love.
Intentional ONE THING Challenge
If you could do ONE THING and know that it would make a
significant, lasting, possibly life-changing difference in your life, would you
do it? Dr. Carlson shares the power of ONE THING and why you should get started doing your ONE THING
How do you practice intentional love in your marriage? We’d love
to hear your stories. Post your comments below.
10 LITTLE THINGS YOU SHOULD START MAKING TIME FOR AGAIN
This is a new day. A new beginning. And things will change.
This morning I was jogging along a nature path near my home when a woman I had just passed began screaming for help. I turned around to see that her husband had fallen to the ground and appeared to be unconscious. I ran over and checked his pulse. He had one, but he was barely breathing. The woman called 911 on her mobile phone while I performed CPR on her husband. Somehow, miraculously, I got him in a more stabilized state before the paramedics arrived. And although I have no idea how this couple’s story will end, I’m optimistically hopeful.
Now I’m sitting here reflecting on the whole incident, and especially on the words the woman repeated over and over through heavy tears as I was attending to her husband: “It’s not his time. Oh please, it’s not his time!”
Her words keep echoing in my mind, reminding me that life is fragile and fleeting, and that I need to start allocating my time properly again. Life has been extremely busy lately, and certain things have fallen by the wayside. But enough is enough! It’s time to revive and resume the positive daily rituals that best serve my well-being and my relationships. And I hope YOU will join me.
Think about it…
It’s time to start taking better care of yourself again. – You are like a building with stained-glass windows. You always shimmer and shine when the sun is out, but when darkness sets in your true magnificence is revealed only if there is light shining from within you. It’s your duty, and yours alone, to keep your inner light shining bright. So learn to love yourself first, instead of loving the idea of other people loving you. Loving yourself does not mean being selfish, or disregarding others. Rather, it means welcoming yourself as the most honored guest in your own heart and mind—a guest worthy of extra care. Whatever you are doing, love yourself for doing it. Whatever you are feeling, love yourself for feeling it. That’s a great way to start.
It’s time to start indulging in your passions and hobbies again.– Do fall in love, not always with a person, but with an aim, an ambition, a passion. If you lost everything but your mind, heart and health, what would be your reason to wake up every morning with a smile? There’s definitely a fire burning inside you. It’s your job to find it and keep it lit. As we grow older, with all of our responsibilities, our passions and hobbies often seem like an indulgence. They shouldn’t be. They should be a requirement. Even if you can only dedicated 20 minutes a day to something you love, DO IT. No excuses, no regrets.
It’s time to start spreading joy again. – BE the change you want to see. Love fearlessly and without limits. No act of love or kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. The best part of life is not just surviving, but thriving with passion, compassion, humor, generosity, and kindness, and using these tools to improve the lives of those around you. Smile, and help others smile too. If you don’t have the power or strength to write someone’s happiness, then try to help them remove their sadness instead. And don’t let the numbers overwhelm you. You can’t help everyone. Focus on assisting one person at a time, and start with the one closest to you.
It’s time to start up quality conversations with loved ones again. – Death is a real challenge. It tells us not to waste time. It tells us to make time right now to tell each other that we love each other. It tells us to stop texting and tweeting every second and actually open the floodgates to real, long, heartfelt conversations with the people we love. Relationships flourish when two people are able to share their innermost feelings and thoughts about themselves and each other. To be fully heard by someone, in raw form, and be adored anyhow, is what true love is. Making time for these deep connections and conversations is worth it. (Marc and I discuss this in detail in the “Relationships” chapter of our New York Times bestselling book, Getting Back to Happy: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Reality, and Turn Your Trials into Triumphs.)
It’s time to start listening to others (without judgment) again.– Be selective in your battles. Let go a bit and just listen and smile. Most of the time being peaceful and compassionate is far better than being right. So keep in mind that wisdom is not just knowing when to stand up and speak, but when to sit down quietly and listen. It’s about knowing that your ears will never get you in trouble, and will always give you a chance to learn something new.
It’s time to start enjoying peaceful downtime again. – You deserve quiet moments away from the daily hustle, in which no problems are confronted, no solutions are explored, and no demands are being made of your time. Schedule time every day to not be busy. At least twice a day, withdraw yourself from the sources of stress that refuse to withdraw from you. Do so for a few minutes and simply be and breathe. Don’t fool yourself; you’re not so busy that you can’t afford a few minutes of sanity.
It’s time to start reading good books again. – Books are truly the perfect entertainment: no advertisements, no batteries, hours of delight and education, and no cost with a library card. What you have to ask yourself is: Why not carry a book around for those inevitable gaps of wasteful waiting time—five minutes here and ten minutes there. Bring that dead time back to life. And remember, it is what you read and learn when you don’t have to that determines what you will be capable of when you have no other choice.
It’s time to start cooking real, wholesome food again. – Your body is a temple. You are what you eat. So do not eat processed food, fast food, and all the filth the big processed food companies try to pass off as “healthy.” Most foods that you don’t have to prepare manually statically cause sickness, cancer, and disease. Do they taste good? Sure. It’s all well-seasoned, pre-packaged poison. This is why so many people are sick—mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually—because of being hooked to the taste of poison, instead of being hooked on the truth and to real foods that heal and provide you with good health and wellness. (Read Super Immunity.)
It’s time to start allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes again. – The greatest mistake many of us make is living in constant fear that we will make one. Life is just too short to berate yourself for making mistakes. After all, mistakes in life are as certain as sunsets and detours. So why exert energy avoiding the unavoidable? The truth is you aren’t really free until you give yourself the freedom to make mistakes. So liberate yourself! Cut yourself some slack. Shift your energy from protecting yourself from failure to squeezing more life out of every one of your days.
It’s time to start celebrating the small victories of each day again. – Sure, not every day will be good, but there will be something good about every day. Notice these things and celebrate them. Train your mind to see what’s right. Positivity is a choice. The happiness of your life heavily depends on the quality of your thoughts.
The floor is yours…
Truth be told, the most important decision you will ever make is what you do with the time that is given to you. Let every day be a part of a dream you can touch. Let every day contain love you can feel. Let every day be a great example of a life truly lived.
life ever hit you so hard you wondered how you’d ever get out of the rut you’re
I know exactly how you feel. I’ve been there myself. And, above all, what you
need to remember is that the next step is ultimately your choice…
Yes, it’s your choice.
You are choosing right now.
And if you’re choosing…
to be stuck in the past…
to act like a victim…
to feel insecure…
to feel anger…
to feel hate…
to be naïve…
to ignore your intuition…
to ignore good advice…
to give up…
…then it’s time to choose differently.
But, let me also remind you that you are not alone. Generations of human beings
in your family tree have chosen. Human beings around the world have chosen. We
all have chosen at one time or another. And we stand behind you now whispering:
Choose to let go.
Choose to be present.
Choose to be positive.
Choose to forgive yourself.
Choose to forgive others.
Choose to see your value.
Choose to see the possibilities.
Choose to find meaning.
Choose to prove you’re not a victim.
Choose to find the motivation you need to take a step forward.
We show HOW at our annual Think Better, Live Better conference.
Marc and I guide attendees through the process of perspective change—and
stepping forward through life’s painful twists and turns.
One of the principles of Intentional Parenting is to recognize that children will usually give you what you expect. The standards that you set are the ones your children will meet. Neglect to set standards, and your children won’t know what you expect. Sometimes, it’s really that simple.
It’s also important to note that understanding the power of expectation means we also have to be careful that the ones we place on our children are realistic and, most importantly, match up to God’s expectations.
Let’s use school as an example because most parents want their children to excel in scholastics. Remember, you have to know your child. Did his problem-solving ability impress you from an early age? Is he or she a creative thinker? How artistic is your child? While we must always encourage them to do their best, we should not require or expect our children to be able to perform outside of their God-given abilities to meet our parental expectations. Why expect your artistic child to be a math genius when God apparently wired him to be the former?
Many children have been frustrated by parental expectations that don’t match up with God’s. Therefore, your expectations for your child must be defined by God’s expectations. Ephesians 6:4 says Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
While we train our children, we should be paying attention to their bent and how they’re wired. We are to lead them “in the way he should go.” That way is God’s way—with all their positive, innate traits and characteristics already leaning in that direction.
An important component to understanding your child, especially in adolescence, is to understand the culture he lives in. To parent wisely, we must have knowledge and understanding of the world he experiences every day. When Jesus sent His disciples out to do His works, He understood what they would be facing, according to Matthew 10:16, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Part of knowing your child is recognizing what he’s up against on a daily basis. Sometimes, in their own best interests, we must work to remove temptations from our children’s paths.
Knowing your child may be just a little more difficult than you think. Recognizing their favorite food as a baby is a lot easier than knowing whom your child sits with at lunch. It only takes a little research, but it’s the kind of knowledge that can be overlooked—and the kind of information that can give you great insight to what’s going on in your child’s life.
It takes time to know your child. Be sure to take the time!
Intentional ONE THING Challenge
If you could do ONE THING and know that it would make a significant, lasting, possibly life-changing difference in your life, would you do it? Dr. Carlson shares the power of ONE THING and why you should get started doing your ONE THING today.
How are you leading your child God’s Way? We’d love to hear your stories. Post your comments below.
All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.─ Isaiah 54:13
As a parent or grandparent focused on God’s intentions for our lives, it’s vitally important to pray for and with each of our children or grandchildren every day. There is something that happens when we stop and pray with our kids. It should be more than a quick prayer over dinner or a bedtime prayer. We’re talking about really spending time in prayer for them and with them.
For those of us who grew up in Christian homes, most of us
prayed at the table before meals. Many parents tried to be consistent to pray
with the kids every night when they’d put the children to bed too, but prayer
should go deeper than that.
We need to spend more time with them praying that:
They would seek
to know God through His Word.
They would seek
God’s will and leading for their lives.
experience God – not only know Him – but truly experience Him.
As they grow up
they would make decisions that would honor Him.
Imagine what kind of difference it could make in the lives of our children and grandchildren if we developed a habit in our lives to pray with and for them. That one, simple, intentional decision could completely transform our families.
Today’s One Thing
Make a commitment to pray with and for each one of your children (or grandchildren) every day for the next 30 days.
RAISING EXCEPTIONAL FAMILIES WITH SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN
It’s a given: parenting is hard work. But when you’re raising a child with special needs, the level of care and stress is not just higher—it shifts the foundations of families and adds unimaginable complexities for everyone involved.
Physical disabilities, learning disabilities, illness, Autism, ADHD, Anxiety, OCD, and Developmental Trauma are parenting game changers. At Feeding Futures, we work in the world of exceptional families, so we know all too well how chaotic things can become when you’re caring for a child with special needs. It sounds stressful because it is, and words don’t even begin to do it justice. I know because I’ve lived it.
When my daughter’s Autism diagnosis came, I was new to being a single parent. My emotional reaction was neither pretty nor graceful. Not long after came the news that she also had extreme anxiety and debilitating OCD. The grief that came with each doctor visit was very real. During the slow process of adjusting to a new normal, I became a warrior. And after six years of fighting, I needed a new way forward.
Nobody can prepare you for the emotions that come with parenting special needs children, especially as a single parent. It is full of questions, self-doubt, and eventual acceptance of your situation—a path that should never be seen as a straight line. Each new challenge for my child can trigger old emotions that send me back into the grief cycle, which is full of negative thoughts and less than ideal coping strategies.
What I eventually learned is that I had to make a plan, because at the end of the day, I had a very special child who needed me.
A New Normal for Special Needs
In my work with families, I see special needs parents scrambling to adjust to their new and unexpected role as a healthcare manager for their child. They are prepared to be the catalyst needed to provide an overall positive quality of life for their family, but many are never told how.
Sadly, families receive little instruction on how to best meet the needs of their children without feeding the already toxic levels of extreme family stress. The stress within special needs households is a topic we can no longer ignore.
Here is what I know to be missing in our special needs world: parental self-care. And not normal self-care. We need deep, even radical, self-compassion practices. We are all so concerned about the deficits of our children that no one is looking at the emotional crisis happening in the lives of the parents and overall family.
As parents of special needs children, we need to add ourselves back to the family care list. We actually need to be number one on the list, but I know that’s not always possible for special needs parents. So, if your self-care needs can’t sit at the head of the family care table, you at least need a seat.
Think back to the day the diagnosis came. Were you told to prepare for the grief, recognize your personal stress levels, and strengthen your family relationships as part of your child’s care? Or did you immediately start driving your child to one specialist after another and line up for pharmaceuticals?
These are two very different approaches on many levels. One is void of parental self-care while the other puts parental self-compassion as a necessary part of family-focused care. Sounds radical, even though it shouldn’t be. At Feeding Futures we want parental self-care to be part of the new normal that comes with the special needs diagnosis, and here’s why.
Caregiver Stress Impacts Children
Dr. Stuart Shanker, child psychologist and Founder of The MEHRIT Centre, explains that we’re parenting in an age of toxic stress levels. We are stressed and our kids are stressed. Our bodies and brains are in overdrive all day, every day, and it all flows down into the lives of our children.
In his book Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life, Dr. Shanker describes a body of research on emotional co-regulation that shows the prefrontal cortex of a child’s brain is not fully developed, so it co-regulates with the prefrontal cortex of significant adults. When an adult is in a stress cycle, the “inter-brain” connection with the child is also full of that stress. Dr. Shanker describes this brain sync up like a “bluetooth” or wireless connection between children and adults. When the inter-brain connection is calm and regulated, stress behaviors are reduced.
There is also polyvagal research from Dr. Stephen Porges and other neuroscientists that’s found when stress is high, we all tip into fight, flight, and freeze more often. This state has substantial long-term health impacts on kids, both typical and with special needs.
Here comes the missing piece that will turn your world upside down, but in a good way. Our children are our mirrors. They show us our stress levels. Each stressful adult day seeps into the nervous system of our children, and they reflect it back to us. Whenever we see a rise in anxiety and stress behaviors in our children, we need to take a good look at our day-to-day lives and our own stress levels. It’s hard to see ourselves as contributing to our children’s challenging behaviors, but the good thing is that it’s never too late to make changes and adopt a softer, more compassionate approach.
The 10% Self-Compassion Promise
Parents of children with special needs require more than just run of the mill self-care practice. They need supercharged, exceptional, and radical self-compassion. I tell parents to imagine they won the “self-care lottery” and they have to use the money on taking better care of themselves or they will lose the prize. Everything about our lives is filled with exceptionalities, and this part of our lives needs to be, too.
I ask families to think how their lives would change if they took 10% of the love and energy they donated each day to their child and gave it back to themselves. Many say they can’t, that it would be selfish, that there is no time. It’s natural that special needs parents are super focused on their children. They have to be. But they also need to care for themselves to avoid the downhill flow of anxiety into their already compromised children. When I remind them of how interconnected stress is within families, they begin to think a little more about a yoga class or going for that swim.
Here are a few things special needs parents can try as they step into the world of exceptional self-care and compassion.
Become a Peaceful Warrior Special need parenting requires us to fight, so we go at it from a position of a warrior. But what if we come at this type of parenting from a different direction? One where instead of burning through our energy supply like an aggressive warrior, we pause each day and fill our tanks with exceptional compassion towards ourselves. Tell yourself each day that you are doing the job of a giant and that you are doing it well. This I know to be true because I have lived it. You can only be a warrior for so long, then you crash, and no one wins.
“Self-Care Light” Just Doesn’t Cut It I love spas. I love the music, the muted colors on the walls, the water everywhere, and the services are wonderful. It is a delightful experience, but in my opinion, it is “self-care light.” Like all powerful experiences, we have to go deeper to see changes in our thinking, feeling, and behavior. Sadly, it has taken years for me to figure out this basic fact—leaving the spa and going back into the beehive of a stressful house or busy job is not what I call wise. These days I will keep my hundred dollars of spa money and instead opt for meditation. The Headspace app is a great option.
Learn More About Self-Compassion Recently, I have taken on a more significant and more in-depth practice of self-compassion. Self-compassion goes deeper than thinking it is nice to buy yourself that expensive thing because you deserve it. It is a deeper daily practice where you learn how necessary it is to cultivate a kind voice in your head. This voice will get you through the dark days, the medical appointments, the IEP meetings, and whatever your exceptional life will toss at you. Self-compassion lives within a soft spot within yourself. It provides you with much needed kind attention, and it is the balance to all the attention you have to give to others.
Know That Compassion Has Two Necessary Parts I remind parents of a concept I learned though buddhist meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg. Compassion has two equally important parts: the part you give to others and the part you must give back to yourself. Parents have no issue with the first part. It’s the second part they can’t get their head around. They have never been taught how to care for themselves or even think it is necessary. But it is, and this is the foundation of helping our children with special needs feel better, too.
Consciously Invite Positives Into Your Life A wise yoga teacher once taught me the power of inviting positives and joys into our lives, and the reason to do it is more profound than you think. This practice teaches us that when our lives become more positive and balanced, we can reflect and observe that negatives have drifted away or at least don’t take up as much space in our lives. The work of Barbara Fredericksonsuggests we broaden and build positive states such as gratitude, kindness, compassion, joy, and peace. Try it for a month, see how your life changes, and how the behavior of your children will change, too. Positive begets positive, and joy generates joy, so pause to celebrate the positives, no matter how small they might appear.
So, are you ready? Ready to try something that will benefit your whole family? Start small. Make a list of things you would like to do for yourself, and carve out time to do it. Your family is not ordinary, it’s exceptional. And so are you.