by Linda Doran Viscardis
I love it when I am able to be in the moment, rather than worrying about where I’ve been and where I’m going. Invariably, when in the moment for longer than just a few seconds, I am blessed. Something amazing happens, and I find myself shaking my head in wonder.
This week, I am practicing being in the moment. It takes concerted effort. It does not come easy. And when I realize that I am indeed “in the moment,” the moment is shattered, and out I come.
Thomas A. Edison once said, “I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work.” So, achieving anything must be about being intentional in one’s actions.
So, lately, I’ve been practicing being “in the moment” … intentionally. This past Monday, I was successful, and the result kinda blew my mind a bit. My success resulted in a full-circle moment, and it felt great!
I’ve known for almost 30 years the power of peer support. Let me tell you, when I became the mom to this most amazing, now young woman who happens to live with perceived differences, I felt overwhelmed and alone. No one in my immediate circle of friends or family could understand my experience. Nor could I ever expect them to.
My experience as a new mom was completely different from the experiences other young moms around me were having. I felt alone, misunderstood, overworked and overwhelmed, and soon felt myself falling into a dark place.
It was not until 1989, when another mom and I decided to form a support group for families whose kids were living with any type of special need, that I really began to ease into and accept my new normal. Those other mostly moms helped me. They helped a lot.
Our group’s goal was to bring parents together in a forum where the realities of our parenting experience were acknowledged, while always looking for that wee nugget of hope, optimism, humour and positivity. We succeeded.
The family support group, known as PROSPECTS (an acronym: Peterborough & Region Organization of Special Parents of Exceptional Children Talking & Sharing), grew for 13 years, having welcomed well over 300 families under its wings. But, unable to sustain itself, the group fizzled out and died. Despite this, many of the group’s founding members have strong friendships to this day, and often make reference to how that group of families helped one another.
Since the demise of PROSPECTS, various family-led groups have come and gone. I belonged to a group called Homes for Life, for a few years. This was a group that was interested in housing (or home-building) options, specifically, for their sons and daughters. Some pretty cool things came out of that coming together of families, with support from our local Community Living and Christian Horizons agencies. But, once the housing issues were addressed, even that group fizzled out and died.
But, I dare say, the need for peer support never fizzles out. It never dies. One mom, whose son is approaching middle age, has told me a few times, “I feel like I’m on this journey alone. I feel lonely.” That’s not okay.
I believe there are many more of us who are feeling alone. And so, I’ve taken it upon myself to reach out, to let other parents and caregivers and guardians know that I’m here. I throw the invitation out there, park myself at a local pub on the second Monday evening of every month (more frequently in summer), and then wait to see who might show up. Sometimes it’s just me. Sometimes there might be one other person. And sometimes there might be many who show up.
This past Monday, there were seven of us. Different-aged sons and daughters; different challenges; different goals. But I think I can safely say, we all felt like we belonged.
Being in the moment, I listened and opened my heart to these other moms. When one mom hugged me and thanked me and told me what it means to her to have found this sense of belonging, I was reminded of how important it is to know we have fellow sojourners.
“Before (our gathering), I felt so alone. I feel good knowing I can learn so much from others’ experiences,” she said.
Although her son is much younger than the rest of the group’s sons and daughters, I think we could all say pretty much the same thing. When we come together, in community, we share, we listen, we hear, and we respond, all while feeling like we’ve come home.
Much research about the impact of peer support has been conducted by CanChild centre for childhood disability research. Here’s some information they’ve pulled together about parent-to-parent support. (I feel very privileged to have partnered with CanChild, way back in the day, and even wrote a paper, The Family-Centred Approach to Providing Services: A Parent Perspective, which was published by Haworth Press, New York, in a book called, Family-Centred: Assessment and Intervention in Pediatric Rehabilitation, 1998, Mary Law, editor.)