Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Taking the Time to be a Happy Mama

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the 2nd annual Happy Mama Conference and Retreat in Raleigh, North Carolina. What, you ask, is the Happy Mama Conference and Retreat? It's the brainchild of some great special needs mamas of kids with invisible disabilities (ADHD, ODD, ASD, OCD, FASD, etc...) who decided it would be a hoot to get together for the weekend with a bunch of other special needs mamas...and they were right! It was a great time!

One of the highlights for me was that I managed to convince one of my best friends, who just happens to be a special needs mom herself, to come with me. When was the last time you spent two days with one of your best friends? I know, right? That's worth the price of admission right there! Just look at these happy do I look????

 A selfie in my hotel room. bags under my eyes!
Amazing what a good night's sleep and a long nap can do.
 Cheese! Smile big big for the selfie, Allison Downey!
 We liked that first one so much, we took another one!
 Now these are happy mamas!
I finally got to meet fellow blogger and special needs mama Adrienne Ehlert Bashista.
She also happens to be one of the conference organizers.

If you were to ask me what I learned at the conference, I'd tell you not a whole lot. Now, don't get me wrong...there was a lot to be learned! The sessions were awesome, and I remember liking them all. I, however, have ADHD and am currently unmedicated, which means I can't remember a conversation I had 10 minutes ago, let alone an entire conference worth of stuff. What I will say, though, is that some stuff really, really resonated with me, and that's the stuff I remember.

Despite the fact that I had spent the money and taken the time to fly almost 1,500 km (or about 900 miles, for you non-metric people) to the conference (and abandoned my husband for the weekend with the children for the second time in a month), I still felt kind of guilty. The conference may be fairly inexpensive compared to other conferences, but it was still a lot of money for us. And while TheODDDad has hobbies that take him out of the house a few nights a week for months at a time, I've never had the kids to myself for an entire weekend. It seemed pretty one-sided...really one-sided...and a part of me felt unworthy.

And then came two sessions by Vikki Spencer, also known as The Mom Whisperer. Vikki is a motivational speaker, a certified life coach, and best of all, a special needs mom. In a nutshell, she gets it. She gets the tendency, which I don't think is unique to special needs moms, to put everyone else's needs before our own. To feel guilty when we take time for ourselves, even if it's just going for a walk or locking the bathroom door and taking a bubble bath. (OK, for the record, I hate baths, but I know they work for some people.) Vikki's message was the importance of taking the time to look after ourselves, to indulge in self-care.

Vikki shared an analogy on how critical it is for us to "sharpen our saw," which I believe she said is a premise she took from Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. She explained it this way (I'm paraphrasing, but the fact that I remember even this much shows how deeply it resonated with me): A man goes for a walk in the woods one day and comes across a woodcutter hacking away at a tree. It's obvious to the man that the woodcutter's saw is dull, so he suggests that the woodcutter take a break to sharpen his saw. "I can't," says the woodcutter. "I need to get this done, so I don't have time to stop."

Of course, we all know that things would go much easier for the woodcutter if he took the time to sharpen his saw. The work would get done faster, the woodcutter wouldn't be as tired at the end of the job, and everyone would be happy. Maybe he'd even have a little time left over for himself... Happy, happy, joy, joy!!!

As special needs moms, we need to take time to sharpen our saws. We are happier and better able to deal with everything that our lives...or our children...throw at us if we look after ourselves. As Vikki pointed out, there's a reason why adults on airplanes are instructed to put their oxygen masks on first and then tend to their children. While maternal instinct tells us to look after our children first, we can't look after our children when we can't breathe. Ever get so stressed that you find it hard to breathe? get the point.

The big question, of course, is how to fund your self-care. A walk by yourself might be nice, but wouldn't a massage be nicer? Or dinner with friends? Or a date night? Or that cut and colour you've been wanting? Or going to the Happy Mama Conference? Sure, I went to the conference this year, but that's because we came into a little bit of money unexpectedly, so I used some of it for that. But the question of how to fund next year's conference...because not going is NOT an a big question.

I have to admit that when I was listening to Vikki talk about the importance of self-care, I was inwardly rolling my eyes as I tried to figure out where the money was supposed to come from on a regular basis. In our house, extra money goes to groceries, savings, or debt repayment. On occasion it goes to a special date night, but the guilt that comes with that can be pretty hefty! It seems there's always somewhere else the money should have gone.

Vikki, however, tackled that as well. She had some really great...and super easy...ways to find money. The thing is, though, that you have to change your mindset. You have to be willing to put that "found" money towards self-care, which means believing you're worth it. I know...that's the hard part.

Vikki asked a really tough question: Would you hesitate to spend the extra money on that child you love so much? Probably not, right? Then you need to love yourself as much as you love your child. When I put that question to the parents in our support group the other night, we all agreed we would find a way to pay for our child's soccer, or birthday party, or therapy. But when it came to putting that money towards ourselves, somehow all the moms and dads were suddenly looking at the ground. Ouch...

So, where do you find the money. Here are some ideas she shared and some of my own:
  • Does loose change tend to sit around in your house? Claim it! If there are any arguments, set a time limit. If it sits for more than 24 hours, it's yours.
  • Use coupons at the store and put the money you save aside.
  • Have breakfast for supper once a week. Pancakes and sausages are cheap and fun. Figure you save $5 or $10 a meal? Great...put it aside.
  • Buy your lunch during the week? Brown bag it once in a while and put the money aside.
  • Love your Timmies or your Starbucks? Forgo one a week and save the money.
I have to admit that not all of these ideas will work in my house. For one thing, I work from home, so there are no bought lunches here. I rarely hit Timmies or Starbucks, so there goes that. I do, however, see a lot of pancakes and sausages in my family's future. If I'm lucky, I may even find a coupon for them! Bonus!!!


  1. You are so right that all mothers, especially those with kids who have special needs, need to take better care of themselves, and put themselves first more often.
    I'm so very glad you "treated" yourself to this conference and that NOT going next year is not an option. Stick to that--no matter what life, and your family-throw at you.

  2. I am so happy I came upon your Blog. I have been telling my mom I was about to start one. All I was finding was what ODD was not how to handle and live with a child who has it. I could relate with everything you were saying. I cant wait to share this with other moms I know who have kids with ODD.

  3. Somehow I missed your post about Happy Mama! What a great take-away from the event! So glad you are coming again in 2015, and SPEAKING. I can't wait. I'm excited to get to know you more, Laura! I know we will have a blast in our cabin. ;-)

    Penny Williams
    Author of "Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD" and "What to Expect When You're Not Expecting ADHD"

    Organizer of the Happy Mama Conference & Retreat

  4. Hello, It's my first time on this blog - how fabulous to finally find a site like this. Is there a website for the happy mom retreat?

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