Monday, September 14, 2015

Happiness is parenting a special-needs child

By Val Lusted

I never thought I’d be writing my very first blog with this title!

However, when 2015 appeared on the horizon, I decided to start journaling on the concept of “happiness.” I used the 22 lessons from a film I’d seen called Hector and the Search for Happiness as my template, noting when I felt happy. Simple right?

It’s eight months into my New Year’s resolution now and as I look back I find it

interesting that most entries relate to my role as a mom to Evan, 15. My husband Rick and I adopted Evan from the Republic of Georgia when he was five months old.

We were about two years into our journey as a family when we started down a scary, unknown path of diagnoses for Evan. A path which would deeply influence the way I view the world and my role as a parent.

Evan was born with complex neurological issues that resulted in an array of diagnoses including microcephaly, ADHD, learning disabilities, hearing loss, significant oral-motor and speech and language articulation challenges. Most recently he is showing signs of social anxiety.

All of these challenges will impact Evan’s future and ours.

But back to my “happiness” journaling. Here are a few excerpts.

Lesson 2: Happiness often comes when least expected

“…the look of shocked surprise on Evan’s face, followed by a smile, as he watched the puck enter the net to provide the Hawks with the winning goal against North Toronto. His gaze followed the puck, then scanned the nearby crowd of fans until he found my eyes. Looking at him and smiling back, ear to ear.

That evening game, the win, the goal, the resulting burst of confidence, seeing my son fully engaged in the play—it had followed an equally blessed and unexpected social invitation earlier in the day. Evan had been invited to join some of his teammates at an Air Canada Centre Juniors hockey game. The boys had travelled together via subway to the arena. Evan had been afraid to go, fearing another anxiety episode might erupt. But Rick and I had talked him through it: offering the usual reassurances, rehearsals and a review of his other anxiety-management strategies.

We asked him if he trusted us (and his teammates) that there was no way he was being set up for failure. He acknowledged how important it was to continue to face his fears.

Evan had gone. He’d had fun. He’d survived. He’d felt like he belonged that day.

Today has been a good day. And that has made me feel happy.”


Lesson 16: Happiness is knowing how to celebrate

“…On the way home, I reflected on the session [with Evan’s psychologist] and noticed how my body, my shoulders, felt lighter. I felt like I had just met a new ally. I felt hopeful. I remembered the text I’d received earlier in the day, along with a voicemail message from Evan. He’d gotten 75 per cent on his music test. Yup. Time to celebrate. I bought a dozen doughnuts to share with my family.”


Lesson 14: Happiness is to be loved for exactly who you are

“...I had the good fortune to spend five whole days with Evan, away from work, household chores and other day-to-day stressors. We shared the time with extended family members at my sister’s cottage, initially garage sailing, napping, lounging, visiting and eating before a local music festival began on the weekend. Because the main cottage was full of occupants, Evan and I were offered accommodation in The Loft (the teen hangout, above the garage).

I have to tell you…the five day visit was so good for my relationship with Evan. I felt so much more relaxed, I was able to actually have conversations with him. I was able to enjoy his sense of humour! It was such a great bonding experience. I felt so blessed that he didn’t seem to mind spending time with me, his middle-aged mom!

How many moms of teenagers have that gift?

At the festival or at the cottage, he’d go off to spend some time alone or to explore some of the vendors. These are moments which I think nurture his sense of independence and 'typical teen time.'

Next year, Evan is even hoping to invite a hockey teammate to stay in The Loft with him, instead of me. Now that would be a wonderful gift sure to enrich my sense of happiness.”

Try googling “happiness is parenting a special needs child.” You’ll find lots of like-minded people to motivate you to continue on your journey. The BLOOM blog and other online resources are equally inviting and inspirational.

Tonight, I am practising gratitude for all of the gifts Evan continues to give to me.

I will continue to journal what makes me happy, using the 22 lessons as my trusty template of positivity, even though I know there will be tougher times ahead.

Val Lusted is a social worker in the Specialized Orthopedic and Developmental Rehab Unit at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.


Words of Wisdom from Hector and the Search for Happiness

Lesson 1: Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.

Lesson 2: Happiness often comes when least expected.

Lesson 3: Many people only see happiness in their future.

Lesson 4: Many people think that happiness comes from having more power or more money.

Lesson 5: Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story.

Lesson 6: Happiness is a long walk in beautiful, unfamiliar mountains.

Lesson 7: It’s a mistake to think that happiness is the goal.

Lesson 8: Happiness is being with the people you love.

Lesson 8b: Unhappiness is being separated from the people you love.

Lesson 9: Happiness is knowing your family lacks for nothing.

Lesson 10: Happiness is doing a job you love.

Lesson 11: Happiness is having a home and a garden of your own.

Lesson 12: It’s harder to be happy in a country run by bad people.

Lesson 13: Happiness is feeling useful to others.

Lesson 14: Happiness is to be loved for exactly who you are.

Lesson 15: Happiness comes when you feel truly alive.

Lesson 16: Happiness is knowing how to celebrate.

Lesson 17: Happiness is caring about the happiness of those you love.

Lesson 18: The sun and the sea make everybody happy.

Lesson 19: Happiness is a certain way of seeing things.

Lesson 20: Rivalry poisons happiness.

Lesson 21: Women care more than men about making others happy.

Lesson 22: Happiness means making sure that those around you are happy. 


Thanks for sharing your lovely personal journal experts Val. Thank you for sharing the value and lessons learned in finding happiness in our daily experiences as a parent.

I love the 22 lessons of Happiness. Thank you so much Val for sharing - I am going to take a page out of your book :)

Your smiles and hats with the bright red colours are perfect for this story about happiness and love. What a beautiful description of mother - son bonding and what can happen and what we can discover , when we are living in the moment, having no expectations during unstructured, unplanned, and unscheduled time. Thank you Val and Evan!

Val, I've always marvelled at how well you managed your role as Evan's Mom; a job description which includes fierce Parent/School Advocate, passionate Hockey Mom and very accomplished Social Convenor, just to mention a few. And when I had the chance to enjoy Evan's great sense of humour and witness his cooperative and responsible nature at our cottage this summer, I realized that your relentless diligence over the years has really paid off.

Evan is a gift to all of us!