On the Trail Back to Me: Mindfulness as milestone

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After my daughter was diagnosed with autism I had people tell me constantly, “remember to put your oxygen mask on first.”

Well-meaning, but annoying. I was traveling down the alaphabet trail ASD,IEP, SLP, BiP, OT, DRS, SE, ESP, OMG!! Traveling that trail without a map was overwhelming, yet I locked my focus on my daughter and gettting her everything she needed to thrive on her own terms.

My needs were put on the bottom of the priority list time and time again. For nine years, all my energy was put into advocating for my daughter on every front imaginable. I completely lost myself, but did not realize that until the Fall of 2018 when my daughter entered middle school.

I had succeeded in helping her grow and thrive into a sassy, confident young woman. I was depleted, felt alone and not sure how revive myself.

During a regular sleepless night, I surfed the Communities Engaging Autism page. Over the years, CEA had become a place where I found workshops and a positive, supportive community that was instrumental in helping me navigate this parenting journey. I wanted to see if they had any upcoming events that could help me through this rut. The answer was before right in front of me: A multi-week mindfulness class for parents of children with special needs; a night each week to learn tools to reduce stress adn to improve my interactions with my kiddo by being mindfully present. It seemed like a dream opportunity and something that would have called to me even before I became a parent.

I impulsively signed up and, a few weeks later, I found myself nervously clutching my yoga mat on a sub-zero winter evening. I wondered, “what have I done?”

I was warmly welcomed by our instructors and offered a cup of tea. I felt my nerves calming.

We introduced ourselves by sharing something we loved doing as kids. There was lots of joyous laughter and choruses of “YES!! me too!” Then we eased into our first breathing exercise.

Throughout the course, we shared our discoveries and our struggles with the exercises, without judgement from our peers or ourselves. I was surprised to find time seemed to fly by, I was peaceful, focused and, for the first time in a nearly a decade, struck by how good I felt.

Each week, we deepened our skills and our connections grew. We stayed in touch between weeks via a group app. We encouraged each other, shared resources, and cheered together as we noticed mindfulness influencing our parenting.

For me, the class and the practice offered tools I could grab hold of in the face of a thunderous meltdown from my daughter. I could stay completely calm and even share some tangible tools to help her navigate her anxiety with more ease.

Our times of family fun were improved as well. Instead of trying to foresee every possible hiccup I just focused on the current moment, then the next one and the next one.

My daughter recognized that I was more centered and that helped her stay more centered. Sleep improved, stress decreased. I found a version of an oxygen mask that helped me find myself again.

Mindfulness as self-care practice improved my parenting in ways I still am learning about months later. It connected me with a group of parents that are a continued support and joy. We meet quarterly to continue our mindfulness practice and share the beautiful, unpredictable parenting journeys with our incredible kiddos.

So, if you have always been interested in mindfulness, are a bit skeptical, or have no idea what to think about it, I’m confident you will find something meaningful and surprising. Give yourself the gift of self care and join us at the next session this October. Possibilities, a good cup of tea, and, perhaps, YOUR personal oxygen mask await!

Author: Jen

Jen lives in the Twin Cities with her husband and daughter. In 2009, doctors and educators diagnosed her three-year-old daughter with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She has been navigating autism by becoming a passionate advocate for families and always seeing the humor in this journey.

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