Living Happy. One Family’s Way…

MY LIFE, transformed by four other little lives, brought into the world, now ages 11, 9, 7 and (almost) 1!

As a parent, what should I want most for my children, if not HAPPINESS?

And yet my Awesomely Aspergers boy, in particular, can have the BEST DAY [with a lot of effort, from others, to this end], and STILL his thoughts refill with broader, perceived challenges in his life 😬 

So how do we equip ourselves, as a family, to be truly happy and fulfilled?

Certainly, it is not to say that life needs to be without challenge, effort, or even failure. I’m definitely NOT saying that. Finding purpose and stepping towards our dreams, through the challenges, surely makes good outcomes most special; ownership, a building block to self esteem. Action becomes committed and motivated. AND ‘the learns’ keep the door open to change and new possibilities!

IN A NUTSHELL, our family outlook has somehow developed three pursuits: 

  1. COURAGE, in the face of the tough stuff
  2. to keep OPTIMISTIC about the future
  3. to be GRATEFUL in the day to day 

Not that I find any of that easy myself, ha! I naturally focus on the bad moments, dwell on them, over analyse them. I usually search for a way I could have done things better. Feel guilt. Pointless stuff.

It’s not about pretending it’s all a breeze though, is it? Learning to mask reality with surface glossiness? Sometimes, life, work, health and relationships ARE tough. I’m blessed with a husband who is masterfully calming when my hysterical waterworks switch on! And he’s very good at caring deeply, and showing it.

Yet there’s a few practical things we have introduced, daily, to help MODEL AND BUILD these traits within family life, especially for Caleb, whose inner voice remains very challenge-focused.

For example, as the children go to sleep every night, we talk to each, in turn, about what they are going to dream about. There is a rule; it has to be forward thinking and positive. Whether that be a birthday party next week, or a future dream career, we encourage the children to end the bedtime conversation by naming a positive thing they are looking ahead to.

On the fridge we often use a visual countdown for bigger, exciting events, which everyone gets involved in updating. We sometimes add pictures, linked to the EXCITING THING, a talking point that keeps the positive anticipation at the forefront. 

Equally, we enjoy looking back on photos of past adventures too.

En route in the car, day-to-day, we regularly list and reflect back upon the highlights of our weekend, week, month, year… We name the good times and get to know each other’s preferences while we’re at it. WE LAUGH TOGETHER! It reminds us that even if this week is tough, there have been plenty of happy times recently, and there will be more to come. 

Similarly, at the end of the school day, we each share two positives, no matter how small, before we launch into any difficulties about our day.

For my son Caleb, I liken troubleshooting any perceived challenge, to feeling travel sick and being unable to get off a merry-go-round! No progress, no agreed solutions, and stubborn pessimism! But if there is a shift of focus, from extinguishing the negative, to looking instead to his character strengths, perceived skills and reflecting upon attractive end goals; this positivity counteracts the pessimistic thoughts, and helps us to move forwards!

When it comes to courage, we tell each other it’s NOT about being fearless. Nor is it about avoidance! Perhaps instead, the first step to courage is self awareness? Knowing what makes us each anxious or uncomfortable, and naming it! And then asking ourselves if it’s important? Is our fear restricting our happiness? If so, let’s find strategies and incentives to face into it, and cheerlead one another, instead of labelling each other negatively, or humiliating one another. Supporting one another is key. In our house we try to promote lovingness, above being right! A work in progress !!

You see, it may be our journey to seek out courage, optimism and thankfulness. BUT, what I want MOST OF ALL, even above these traits, is for the children to GROW TO BE KIND; In my mind, this is the heart of happiness. What’s life without kindness? Without relationship? If the pursuit of happiness is me-first motivated, with jealousy and bitter gossip snapping at its heel, and the pain of unresolved past hurts lurking under the surface, then fun-times or success surely cannot sooth, for long, a deeper brokenness.

Not that I’m in the unbroken camp! Far from it…But I CHOOSE gratitude, and loving deeply goes a long way to helping me feel very fulfilled. It also acts as a balm to the sometimes sharp slap of bad bits, hurtful things, outside of my control.

Yes, I’ll own up now, the Cinderella story ‘The Slipper and The Rose’ was my all time favourite movie as a child; and when the latest ‘Cinderella’ film came out, whilst others found the phrase “Have Courage, and be kind” utterly nauseating, I was (internally) shouting a massive, emotional, ‘AMEN!’ in the aisle…!

Which takes me to my final thought.

I talk to God. I believe in a relational God. I find just TALKING, out loud, to a greater power, liberating.

In all my efforts to be the best Mum I can be, I am reminded…

I’m human.


Embracing Change, Naming the Challenge, and Love is All you Need!

Following on from my ‘lack of empathy’ thoughts in a previous blog, there’s this other Aspergers trait I’d once blanket-accepted too, which has become less and less of an issue for us;

That CHANGE is always going to be a MEGA TOUGH mountain for Caleb.

But no. Not really. You see, I now realise change wasn’t the problem, my approach was, and the fear of the challenge  …

Yes! Caleb loves, loves, LOVES his routines. And there’s comfort in the detail and order!

He will: Arrange clean clothes for the day ahead on the same spot of the bedroom floor, ready to dress in the same, given order. He will not put on his socks before his t-shirt! He prefers not to dress before breakfast. The bedroom curtains are only opened once all his morning tasks are complete. AND he’s actually disappointed with himself if he sleeps in past the usual time of rising. To lie-in? Yuk!

ANY house rule we have for the morning, needs to be fully justified or at least Caleb needs to be CERTAIN I think it’s absolutely necessary, before it will become part of his routine. On the spot – ‘BECAUSE I’M THE MUM AND I SAY SO!!’ –  Not Cool, Mum!

And yet, Caleb also LOVES to experiment with different food combinations from the cupboard for breakfast, wear a new top, listen to a new CD, break apart and create a new Lego model, try a new game on his tablet… a brand of toy, remarketed, brings fresh interest; a new model of car to study – such ‘upgrades’ are exciting news!

For Caleb, new experiences and surroundings, however, are approached much more cautiously. I wonder though, is it actually the ‘change’ itself, or is the anxiety more about things being ‘unexpected’ ? 

Caleb may be much more alert than others to a new environment, and safety-conscious, but so long as his senses are not overloaded (eg. A funfair), then the years have lead him to enjoy and invite a range of new activities, and an acceptance and tolerance of new routines and surroundings, despite any initial discomfort.

Caleb surprised us all by giving gliding a go, aged 10! Totally his choice. ‘No way!’ was his first thought. But by the time the day came to go and watch, he ended up asking to do it!

  • He mastered heights at Go-Ape, even the zip wire!
  • Go-karting (bit tough, the vibrations!)
  • Laser quest,  in the dark!
  • A trip enclosed and suspended on the London Eye
  • The crowds of Wembley stadium, to watch England play.

All things we’d have avoided like the plague, once upon a time!

When Caleb was younger he found shopping centres hard. He has  never had a big ‘meltdown’, but he’d TOO-cheerfully ask “Shall we go now Mum? Shall we go home?” every five seconds. No, we didn’t stop going! And today there’s no problem at all. No fear.

I also remember the worry over a Premier Inn bed, the first time we visited one. We made the decision then, to keep using the same hotel so that the adventure might be new – the destination – but Caleb now finds Premiere Inn and the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet a second home. We’ve learnt that having things that are familiar in the mix is key, family relationships constant, and time to process the unexpected… Now Caleb is happy at any hotel, because he makes the connection. This is family time.

I once wanted to protect Caleb from difficult feelings. But now he is learning to name them and to manage them. Change is inevitable. That’s life. New experiences can make life richer, friendships broaden , perspectives widen, and new interests and skills can begin and develop .

Practically we try to:

  1. Let him know details in advance of the event/change
  2. Listen to any outpouring of negatives without shutting the conversation down (patience!)
  3. Allow as many of the smaller routines and relationships to stay constant
  4. Keep calm and be upbeat without ‘bullying’ him along – acknowledge his feelings and when it’s tough… Caleb has picked up on this script and now uses it on me, when I’m stressing …“I understand your feelings Mum, but…” Haha! I’m being coached!

So. He is going to be ok.

Until recently Caleb had decided he would never travel out of the uk when an adult. But then he watched blog Supercars of London, and the annual road trip taken around Europe …. And decided he will drive baby Matilda on similar trips around the world when she’s older!

I don’t need to worry.

This week Caleb began at a new school. His new uniform is itchy and the tie restrictive, the teacher suggested he read for 15 minutes, 3 times a week, instead of 10 pages each time, like at his old school… And he’s not allowed to loop his ‘y’s in handwriting any more!

But do you know what? He’s happy. He feels accepted. Every child in his class is ‘a friend’ …

And he’s positive. Despite the challenges of change. It’s week one and he’s already throwing himself into it. Because he has secure relationships. And a history of new life experiences. And self awareness of what he finds tough, what he can control, and what he can’t. And he accepts it that way and moves forward, through the challenge.

So proud of you CALEB. Of each of our children. YOU are VERY lucky to have such loving siblings. They play a big part in the normality within the new.

Everything is going to be A-okay. YOU’LL SEE