In my last blog I talked about the importance of positive emotions on children’s learning and how I manage to keep JB happy. But given the demands of parenting a child with special needs, how do I manage to stay emotionally positive to ensure this works? As I happened on some literature, simultaneously experiencing fluctuating levels of happiness since I had JB, I thought writing about how I have managed to keep emotionally content and arriving at a more consistent ‘happy’.
Undoubtedly, having a child under 5 who in addition has special needs is no easy feat for any mother. I say mother not to out rule fathers, but more often than not, it is the mother who spends the most time in bringing up the children. I know there are many fathers out there who take on that role for various reasons and hats off to you. So here I was thinking when my third and last child (so I thought) became a teenager, that I was free from mothering young children forever, when – ok then, hello little one!
So, after the shock x 2, no 3, I settle into my new role, new life I start to wonder more deeply, what helps to make mothers consistently happy to ensure their children are happy, settled and secure? The consensus certainly seems to be that unhappy mothers cannot fully and convincingly provide what it takes to produce emotionally happy children.
2016 sees a time of more demands on a mother than any other time in history. Mothers need to not only nurture and love their children (which is the easy part), but educate, teach, nurse, organise extra activities as well as take them and pick them up, buying and providing nourishing meals, ensuring homework is completed, and the home is organised and clean. In addition, if you have a child with special needs there are hospital visits, therapy appointments, equipment hauling, behaviour management, extra time management, extra lessons and extra laundry! An exhausting life, but is it a happy one? Surveys show that in 2010, a mother spent an average of 4 extra hours per week with her children than one in 1965. A university graduate mother spent an extra 9 hours per week with her children whilst more likely additionally working outside the home.
After reading recently a book entitled The Pursuit of happiness by Ruth Whippman (for Netmums) I concluded as she did, that there are simply just a few answers (and quite obvious ones) to the dilemma we as mothers and mothers of children with special needs periodically ask ourselves; how do I keep happily afloat in the midst of a seemingly never-ending obligation of super-mothering a child with special needs? I say ‘super-mothering’ because keeping our children emotionally happy and learning is no easy feat.
John Medina in his book Brain Rules for Baby, also clearly explains the ways a child can suffer of we as mothers are not holding our emotional thing together. And gladly gives similar evidence and clarifications as Whippman does in her book. Medina explains a conference he was presenting at when a father asked him ‘how do I get my child into Harvard? Medina responded by saying something like, go home and love your wife!
My previous blog on emotions briefly illustrated the consequences of violence and aggression towards children. This also applies when such acts are displayed in front of children. According to Medina and his research, if there is emotional upset between parents, the child’s developing brain will be influenced negatively. However, if we think of the main causes of marital conflict, we can start to break down those causes which are: social isolation, unequal workload, depression and sleep loss.
For example, a typical stay-at-home-mum could easily work up to 94.4 hours per week which outside the home would earn around £80,000 per year. Most men do not spend 94.4 hours per week at work and most men earn less than £80,000 per year.
Once couples are aware of the main causes of marital conflict and they prepare for them, the effects are much diminished.
So what are some of the counter practices that can help marriages and our children’s emotional and cognitive stability and development?
When we argue relating to the abovementioned issues, we are thinking asymmetrically. I am right, you are wrong! Empathy however creates symmetry and therefore produces less hostility. The behaviorist John Gottman could predict divorce probabilities with accuracy nearing 90%. In his studies, he revealed that a marriage was pretty much divorce proof if the wife felt her husband was listening to her enough to influence his behaviour. Empathy is powerful and works well because it only requires understanding. This works for all members of the family; when each person practices empathy , relationships naturally flourish.
With regards to parenting, “empathy” Gottman said “not only matters; it is the foundation of effective parenting.”
Mothers need to ask themselves some honest questions:
- Do I have many friends?
- What social groups do I and my husband belong to?
- How diverse are my friends?
Social isolation can lead to clinical depression which can also increase the risk of heart disease, infectious diseases and overall health.Belonging to social groups is the antidote to isolation and it is important that we seek out friendships and make the effort to maintain them. Since I was 19, I have moved to very different areas and essentially had to ‘start again’ with regards to my social circles. In each new place I lived, I encountered quite different experiences as each stage of my life was different. Belonging to a church however has made this much much easier where neighbourly love and friendship is encouraged and provided.
The Grant Study is a thorough research of the study of happiness that spanned nearly 75 years on 268 Harvard undergraduates, and intricately investigated every aspect of their lives. George Vaillant was the psychologist that lead this study and in answer to the question of what makes a good life, what makes us happy? revealed; ‘The only thing that really matters in life (is) your relationships to other people.’
Whippman interestingly talks somewhat about social media interactions. From researchers Kross, Ethan et al., it reveals that ‘Facebook use predicts decline in subjective well-being in young adults.’
Intense parenting itself has suggested through research that mothers (who give parenting an intense approach) are more likely to be unhappy with higher risk of depression; three times higher than the overall population. (Journal of Child and Family Studies).
I met an interesting couple on the train recently, with 2 of their 7 children. As we talked , the mother revealed that their 4 sons all had ASD. Both parents explained the difficulties that they had to cope with on a daily basis. As I scrutinised her unflawed, beautifully made up face, I silently wondered how she could look so unfrazzlled and well.As if she could read my thoughts she then said that there are too many demands made on mothers and gave a strong impression that she does not bow to these demands.
How do I manage to stay a happy mummy?
- Give my family priority time, phone calls mostly although skyping gets used almost daily.
- Visit and keep in touch with family and old and new friends. (I still have some way to go with this though).
- practice empathy as much as possible.
- give myself some ‘me’ time.
- exercise (mostly yoga and walking in the fresh air!)
- eat well to stay healthy (There’s nothing worse than feeling unwell).
- Relax! That means, I try not to take every detail seriously but have fun whilst doing my motherly duties.
- Ultimately it’s about love.. for God, my children, myself and the world around me.
Love you guys too!