Saturday, April 29, 2006

Sacred Self Care--Permission Granted!

Whenever I run across a valuable and inspiring resource penned by women, one designed to help other women improve their lives, I cannot wait to pass it on. This is one of those times.

Throughout my life, the timeless messages of Julie Cameron, Anne Morrow Lindberg, Maya Angelou and others have added fire to my creative soul. So I’m always on the lookout for new writers whose talent for written expression inspires me and motivates me to be the best darn human being I can be. Like most people, I am a continual work in progress. No big surprise there. As long as we are still breathing, there is room for us to discover more about ourselves and to grow and change in amazing ways. Always.

So I’ve got a new name to add to my list of those who challenge me to pursue new personal heights, and I 'm going to share it with all you incredibly hard-working moms of children with special needs (and those without). I’ve just discovered the terrific works of author Joan Anderson. Like the sacred words of Julia Cameron, a gifted champion and nurturer of the writer’s sometimes fragile psyche and soul, Anderson’s book holds the power to inspire women to take powerful action to improve their lives.

This talented author gives women the permission they desperately seek, (yet rarely find outside themselves—hint: stop looking there!), to take time out for personal reflection and renewal. Think of this read as an invigorating blood transfusion for a tired mother’s soul (chicken soup alone won't cut it!).

Anderson challenges our gender, one extremely effective at caretaking everyone but themselves, to take time out to reconnect with who they once were, and still may be behind all the societal masks and demanding female roles they have taken on to the nth degree. (I’m exhausted just writing about the subject!). Anderson invites us to ditch the wobbly, painful stilettos (the masks we wear each day) and get real by giving women permission to reclaim their own lives-- and wear more sensible shoes as they navigate life’s rocky emotional terrain.

I came across this author’s important works during a much-needed day away from demands as a new author. As I prepare to face some especially important whirlwind weeks involving book promotion and media appearances, I came across Anderson’s most recent work: A Weekend to Change Your Life: Find Your Authentic Self After A Lifetime of Being All Things to All People. I found it while leisurely browsing in a bookstore. (Haven’t done that far too long).

Intrigued by the title (book titles do matter!), I began reading her words before leaving the bookstore. I couldn’t stop! With my discerning writer’s eye, that's something that rarely happens. With my increasing professsional demands, I must connect with a book immediately to even consider purchasing it. Anderson's book had me reading before I left the parking lot.

This particular title is a semi workbook/companion guide to Anderson’s bestselling book A Year by the Sea (I'm drawn to titles involving the word SEA!). I promptly got myself a copy of that book, too. I keep going back and forth between the two titles, savoring every single word on each page, finding each valuable reflection and insight a gift. I’m stopping only long enough to blog these words, while forgiving myself for going two weeks without a new entry! The books are working already.

Anderson’s insightful words offer a particularly timely statement for my own life. I have just finished a huge personal goal of becoming an author of a book about a topic about which I am passionate- improving the lives of children with special needs, and the lives of their families. Becoming published by traditional publishing channels is no easy feat these days and it gets harder each year. Plus, I’m still dealing with the grief over the death of my son in 2003.

Reality check. I am at one giant life crossroad. And that ever present nagging question What now? that often faces us gals once we climb one big mountain (or finish a big ‘ol stinkin pile of dirty laundry), is already chanting in my brain. Every so often, I tell it to chill out! Anderson challenges us to say that more often, using stronger language.

It’s just like mothers to barely take time to catch their breath, validate their achievements (if we do that at all) and say good job! before they take on another big task-- all the while wondering what we must do next in our never ending quest to prove our value and our self worth and mommy stock. I’m not going to rant about how we got ourselves into this role-playing mess, not today anyway. But here’s Anderson suggests a novel way to help you try to find your way out of it.

How about doing nothing?

How about taking time needed to retreat into silence in order to rediscover who you really are, to rediscover what moves you, makes you cry, laugh or love passionately and celebrate you? How about taking time to reflect on your own greatness as a human being outside of all these other roles you wear, in order to rediscover the terrific person that lies beyond the laundry, homemade lasagna and PTA carnival chair title?

"No time!" you shout!

Anderson challenges that protective chant, too, by citing all the hours, minutes, microseconds in a day (some of which we clearly waste), before challenging you to find some of that time just for you (she did this to an audience member live on Oprah!). Anderson has a critical point to make. We have become a nation of burned out moms, speeding by life moments in gas gulping SUVs. Our children are watching us closely, and they are stressing out, too. We are making some crazed choice to stay on this treadmill of parenting madness.

Anderson works helps us understand that we can and must change this insanity.

This author is right on, sisters! And we should be paying close attention, because ultimately our children are paying the price of our refusal to take care of ourselves and one day, (if we have parented well and can find additional resources where needed), most of our kids will leave us to take flight and create their own worlds in their own space. Then what?

We could all benefit from a slight slow down and reflection, don’t ‘cha think?

While the meat of Anderson’s words are designed to help women in mid-life transition rediscover who they are beyond the exhausting roles of wife, mother, employee, etc. I find her valuable message of self care for women especially powerful for mothers of children with special needs. When it comes to running the parenting race, these women are triathletes.

Like other moms, they often give until they have nothing left to give, but the heightened intensity of special needs parenting demands make these moms the true heros in the non-stop motherhood race. Finding time away to these moms isn’t as simple as it is to most. It requires extra careful, thoughtful planning, and usually great child care, a very supportive husband, or priceless (and hard to come by) respite care. The good news is that where there is a will (and a great need for life-impacting change), there is nearly always a way.

Permission to take care of YOU (and time away from parenting) granted!

Take time out for you! That’s Anderson’s battle cry, mine, too. I included self care (for dads, too!) in my book Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations (the book you need besides Andersons!), because I believe it is a critical component in the special needs family equation. There’s a reason why flight attendants tell passengers to use the oxygen masks first before offering it to their children. You cannot continue to run this kind of demanding parenting race without taking care of you. You are at increased risk for burnout. I'm deadly serious.

Anderson gives further credibility to this crisis facing many exhausted women today, women who feel guilty for voicing their exhaustion and need for rest. We represent a large generation of women who have tried to do it all, be it all, be the best at it all, at a huge cost to our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health (without any thought that equation might include special needs!). And if you think the family unit and your children don’t notice or suffer as a result, you are mistaken. Kids are remarkably sensitive and insightful to what’s going on around them. They know if you are happy and content, or stressed and rabid beyond belief (maybe even wishing to escape into a romance novel of your own perhaps??).

Is this really the message we want to give about ourselves and our life roles to our daughters and our sons? Do we want to leave them a legacy that defines the woman’s role as one of martydom, with the required skills of juggling all the life balls without ever dropping a single one, while adding more balls to the equation every single day? No wonder so many women are pooped, discouraged, and out of touch with their inner goddess!

We need to stop the madness. We need to take time out. Anderson’s books and words may just give you the added incentive and permission that you think you need to do just that. If nothing else, you will find out that you aren’t alone in this life madness and that yes, you can get off the crazy tilt a whirl, at the very least for a short time. Short escapes can work wonders.

You can find out more about Anderson’s work at:
and more about mine, of course (it is my blog after all!) at

Your family will be better off because mom took needed time away to refuel. Most importantly, so will you. Most moms have a tough time admitting that maybe, just maybe, our children and family can exist without our micromanagement for just a little while (especially tough for some moms to leave DAD in charge!). They can make it without us- for a little while at least! What a relief to find this out before you fall head first from exhaustion into the homemade lasagna, and snort noodles!

So this week, try hard to uncover and highlight at least three blessings your child with special needs brings into your life and celebrate them, together! And then share them with me! …Right after you lock the bathroom door and take a long, hot bubble bath (or even a short one).

Me? I’m gonna go curl up cat like and take a nap in the warm late-April sun, right after I fold the last load of laundry...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Siblings Rock!

When I talk about special needs families, I can't ramble on for very long without mentioning the important subject of siblings. They are my heroes. They don't ask to be put into this sometimes crazy family situation, yet they must live with the results of it, for good or not so good, for the rest of their lives.

That's a lot to ask of them, and it makes it critical that the adults in their lives tune into sibling's needs and work hard to meet those needs-- for the sake of everyone's future.

I love siblings so much that I have devoted an entire chapter to them in my book Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations. That chapter includes more than one wise and wonderful sibling voice, along with information about a terrific sibling resource called Sibshops, an organization designed to help siblings better handle their valuable roles! Check it out!

I've asked my daughter to join me in rambling about siblings this week in an informal Q & A. Jenna recently graduated from college with a degree in visual journalism. I think she turned out great for a sibling in a special needs family!

Unfortunately, her brother, Eric, passed away in 2003 at age 12. As Jenna reflects on his life, we both hope that her words will help you have a little better understanding about what it means to be a sibling in these challenging and often amazing families.

If you want to know more about Jenna's sibling role, and that of some other wonderful sibs, you've gotta read Breakthrough Parenting!!!(had to get the sales pitch in there for my publisher!!) I promise you that the sibling chapter alone makes BP worth your time. I have found that these siblings are often exceptional human beings, thanks in part, to their demanding roles. For more about Breakthrough Parenting, visit my website:

Q: Jenna, tell me the first word that comes to your mind when I say siblings and special needs:

A: Eric.

Q: What do you remember most about your brother?

A: His joy for life. When I think of my brother, I think about happy he was.

Q: What was the most difficult thing about being Eric's sibling?

A: How much attention he needed when he was younger, and all the things we had to consider before we went anywhere.

Q: Do any specific challenges come to mind?

A: I remember when we traveled to Florida and we had to bring a lot of stuff for Eric's needs, including his special seat to sit in so he could fly.

Q: Did your brother every embarrass you?

A: Only when he got upset and acted out, especially when he was younger.

Q: What can parents do in this kind of situation to help siblings feel better?

A: Stay calm about it. Don't get upset with the sibling with special needs. If a parent overreacts to the situation, it can make it even worse and more embarrassing for the sibling. Also, let the sibling know that they haven't been forgotten in the moment, and allow them to express their feelings about it. Check in with siblings informally later on to see how they're doing. But don't press them into talking about it if they don't want to discuss it right then.

Q: What do you think is the hardest thing for a sibling to face about life with brother or sister with a disability?

A: It's hard having to explain your sibling to others and have them understand the disability. Making sacrifices is hard, too. Like when you have special family plans and your sibling's needs cut those plans short or they get cancelled because of things like illness or trouble finding childcare.

Q: What do see as the positives of having had a brother with special needs?

A: I definitely have an awareness of a population that doesn't get talked about enough, one that people are often uncomfortable talking about. I think I am more open to accepting people with differences despite what those differences might be.

Q: What did we do as parents that made your role easiser?

A: You always thought about me and made time to give me attention, too. You met my needs, not just Eric's. There was always time for me to pursue my favorite activities and live out my life dreams, too.

Q: In what way did we as parents help make your sibling role easier?

A: By your positive example. You set a good example for everyone around you. You were proud of your son, and because you weren't embarrassed by him, neither was I.

Q: Is there anything we could have done differently?

A: I don't think so. You did the best you could.

Q: What do you miss most about Eric?

A: How happy he was to hang out with me. That made me happy.

Q: Your advice to other siblings who might be struggling with their role?

A: Love the good pieces of your sibling. Focus on the happy moments. Try to enjoy what your sibling enjoys and get involved with them, regardless of anything they might do that embarrasses you or makes you mad, or leaves you feeling left out.

Q: If you had a choice would you have changed Eric's special needs?

A: No. But I wish I could have still had Eric in my life and also have had another sibling without special needs to share this whole sibling experience with.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

A: I think that covers it, for now.

Thanks, Jenna!!

No problem, mom!

..Now it's your turn to talk to your child. Make a real effort to connect with all the kids in your family this week. Cause each one is incredibly special....and they all need your parenting.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Sending Breakthrough Parenting Out into the World

I have officially begun the whole book signing/public appearance phase that comes with being a published author! And I must say that after all the hard work and tough life experiences required of me to get to this point, this public adoration stuff is kind of fun, and cool.

Plus, I love all the hugs and kudos! But I promise to stay humble. All I have to do to accomplish this little feat is to link on to and eyeball all those reviews with less than 3 stars given for books that I KNOW are really good reads!


Fact is, I have sent my baby (my blood, sweat and tears) out into the cold, cruel, opinionated and often critical world. It's also a world that can be remarkably beautiful, wise, compassionate, even gutsy when it comes to fighting for basic human rights and dignity, and societal justice. I'm counting on those folks to review me!

There is much goodness and beauty in this crazy world (some people even give authors five stars!!) yet we rarely expose it. Why is that? As a writer, I have learned that our objective craft often requires that we take in some rather sour words (otherwise known as 'constructive criticism') about our work, along with all those sweet, good-time reviews we hope to receive. It's rarely cause for celebration.

But nobody's gonna love you all the time (not even if you are Oprah). Nor will everyone agree with your cause or your passionate take on it. In fact, some people may well argue really loudly against it (and some people just like to be mean!). Don't you just love those kind of reality (ego) checks? I work hard to take anything of value from these reviews, then quickly move on.

I've been fortunate (so far) to experience a terrific amount of enthusiastic support for Breakthrough Parenting, which I believe is a great resource (big surprise!). But real solutions to personal challenges come when you combine great resources with your own personal sweat and heartfelt, fearless actions. That creates magic. A good resource can help give you an empowering and energizing view about your life that can help lead you to make important change. IF you are open to that possibility.

So if someone promises you a magic wand, save your time and money and run like a crazed cat in the other direction.

I wish that I could stand there with some of my readers, and wipe away their bitter, painful and powerful tears of frustation, and soften the grief that may arise as they read my words, and as they recognize their own difficult life stories. I've seen these kind of tears at my book signings. I trust that through my words, I may in some small way touch one person's life enough to help them make good changes in their own world, and in so doing, create better lives for their children.

I hope that my words and those of others in my book, help people hang on tightly during some particularly stinky life moments. (Think strong lifeline in powerful quicksand). If one person can hold on when they want to give up, I think my book will have served its purpose.

But I sure hope my honest, emotional words also generate lots of discussion among the warring factions, along with an important call to personal actions for change. I hope BP gives birth to new advocates committed to helping all kids lead better lives, advocates who think change is long overdue and who will join me and others fighting for needed improvements and awareness that helps all kids thrive. Raising the bar of expectations for children with special needs- one child at a time, is my battle cry. It was my original intention in all this special needs work to which I have committed my heart and soul, and it drives me still.. always will.

When I speak before crowds, I love it when student teachers (those soon to be in their own classrooms) come up and ask me what they can do to create greater change within their own profession. Their honest words and willingness to learn new stuff, fueled by youthful idealism, unbridled energy and pure intention, give me tremendous hope for the future. Plus, they always energize and inspire me (and make me wish I was twenty something again for a few days, but with the wisdom, life experiences, financial security, and cool convertible that I have today!). The grass often looks greener... I think I prefer the wisdom...(and the car!).

Now go squeeze your children tightly; and then hug them a second time for me. 'Cause us writers can always use the love--and so can our kids!

And if the spirit, and my words move you, please give me a good review online- with lots of gold stars! Thanks!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Brooke Ellison Inspires!

Today's blog is going to be short, fairly sweet and definately to the point- mainly cause I've been slightly overscheduled this week. So it's either keep this short or hold off on adding a new blog for a few more days. (I can't disappoint you like that)! And why ramble on this week when I can make great use of your reading time by suggesting that you check out a great story on your own with the click of a mouse! (Ain't technology grand?).

Want to get inspired in your own life? Check this out...

My friend, Brooke Ellison, is running for New York State Senate. To learn about Brooke's story, her life and her political campaign, just go to her website After reading about this amazing young woman, you might just be motivated to move a few mountains of your own this week! Brooke has faced some big life challenges, including disability, with remarkable courage, grace and guts.

Be forewarned- once you have 'met' Brooke Ellison, it's going to be a lot tougher for you to make the same lame excuses about what's preventing you from taking action to create much needed-change in your own daily life. Remember all those big dreams you once had? It's rarely too late to pursue them...

Brooke Ellison is one smart, determined woman, and great role model for anyone looking to change the world- or at least a tiny corner of it. I think she'd make a terrific, hard-working Senator, sensitive to meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse society teetering on the edge of madness, not a bad person to have in office these days, huh?

Brooke has succeeded (excelled) in everything she has taken on in her life, regardless of the significant challenges thrown her way. Instead of complaining loudly about the need for change in the world, Brooke Ellison is taking important action. There's a big difference between the two.

Once you've learned more about Brooke, it's your turn to act! Whatever it is that moves you, pushes your buttons, makes you stand up and cheer, take it on, however seemingly small the action. Get started. Get educated. Get inspired. Then get involved. And use your voice wisely.

That's how real change happens. And Lord knows, we could use the leadership.

Wishing you a week of productive change.... Tell Brooke I sent you...