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Journey Through Holland

Most families with children who are challenging or have disabilities have heard that it’s more like going to “Holland” than Italy, and this is helpful.  But beyond that, what comes from our travels through this unexpected and often difficult experience, this Journey through Holland?

Oprah Magazine ran an article awhile ago suggesting that stressful life events, rather than being negative, may be gifts.  This is a ridiculous idea at first glance, I concede.  But when I look back on my own life, I see I learned more from the events I initially thought were the “bad stuff” then I did from the “good stuff.” (Although yes, good stuff is still wonderful and in the case of chocolate, easier to swallow).

To paraphrase the Oprah article and stimulate your own thinking:  “If what is happening to me right now is actually a gift for my benefit, what could that benefit be?”

Significant experiences in our life can teach us to be more generous and more fully human, whether we believe they come from Nature, a Higher Power, the Universe, or just Chance.  Lessons which might be learned from the experience of having a child with disabilities or challenges might include:

  • To give you empathy for other people.
  • To give you new strengths.
  • To help you realize something you couldn’t have realized before.
  • To give your life new purpose.
  • To take you in a new direction.
  • To teach you new skills.
  • To put something or someone who needs help into your capable hands or within your influence.

As the negative thoughts enter your mind, consider seeing things from a different perspective.  For example:

  • Instead of:  “I don’t have a typical and easy child, and therefore I have “less” than others.”
  • Maybe…“I have a unique and intense child, and therefore I have “more” than others.”
  • Instead of:  “My life will be harder and sadder than I planned.”
  • Maybe…“My life may be harder, but more purposeful than I planned.”           
  • Instead of:  “My present is dark, and my future will be darker.”
  • Maybe… My present seems dark, but who knows about the future?  I’m glad this has helped me make peace with the uncertainty of life. 
  • Instead of:  Now I will never have what I want.
  • Maybe… I may never have what I used to want, but I’ll gain things that are deeper and more meaningful.
  • Instead of:  I envy others their “normal” lives.
  • Maybe…Now things are getting interesting!
  • Instead of:  It’s not fair I have to endure something so difficult.
  • Maybe…I’m walking through fire…and surviving!
  • Instead of:  That child over there is a brat, and his parents need lessons.
  • Maybe…I will not judge.  I hope his parents get a break tonight.
  • Instead of:  I don’t know what I’m doing.
  • Maybe:  Another lesson learned; someday I’ll be an expert.
  • Instead of:  I’m not strong enough to deal with this.
  • Maybe… Who knew I was this capable?
  • Instead of:  I’m overwhelmed!
  • Maybe:  What a good reminder of my limits.  (This is especially good when learning to say “No” to extra commitments).
  • Instead of:  I shouldn’t have to ask for or accept help.
  • Maybe… Asking for and receiving help takes a special humility.  It’s great to see the connectedness of us all.
  • Instead of:  It looks so bleak!
  • Maybe…More will be revealed.  (This is one of my favorite sayings, quoted from an Anne Lamott book).
  • Instead of:  Why would this happen?
  • Maybe… Later…I may understand.

As my clients have helped and loved their children through their own Holland journey, I have watched this learning and personal growth occur in many of them, just as I experienced these in myself.  And as their children have grown and the path has become less rocky, parents have begun “giving back” to others who need help in – surprise! - ways only these parents are especially equipped to give. 

If you are reading this early in your Holland journey - at the survival stage – the idea of giving back will appear ridiculous…nonsensical…and permanently out of the question.  Never mind.  It may come later, or not…no pressure.

For now, try to live in the belief that you are on a difficult but life-changing Journey Through Holland.  A journey which may bring important insights, growth, and skills to you, whether your child makes dramatic improvements or none at all.  Looking back, you may realize that your life had a special richness and yes, even joy, not in spite of what you have been through, but because of it.


© 2009 – Deborah Skalabrin, MSW, LICSW - Year For Change Child Treatment and Therapy.  Permission is given to link to this document at www.yearforchange.com.

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Deborah Skalabrin, MSW, LICSW

701 W. 7th Avenue, Suite 15
Spokane, WA  99204
(509) 448-1506 - Phone
(509) 624-7500 - FAX

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