How Counseling Helped Me Become a Better Parent

Special needs parenting can be a rollercoaster and wonderful people can help along the journey.

A crucial turning point came early on for me when I recognized and acknowledged that the stress I was experiencing with the challenges of parenting a child with a prognosis of FASD did not always match my capacity to tackle them.

A week ago, a key relationship in my parenting life came to a close. The wonderful psychologist whom I had been seeing for over three years was retiring and we had our final session together.

It all began five years ago when our family doctor made a referral to Surrey Place, a wonderful organization that supports individuals with developmental disabilities and their caregivers.

He made the referral after we shared that T was prenatally exposed to alcohol. At 18 months, the developmental pediatrician at Surrey Place gave T a prognosis, not diagnosis, of at-risk FASD.

It was devastating news to receive and it took me a while to process it. But thanks to this prognosis, we received a plethora of life-enhancing services: developmental therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and behaviour therapy.

Another significant service was family counseling.

The developmental therapist asked early on if I was interested in their free family counseling services. She cautioned there would be a one-year wait list.

My philosophy, which I’ve adopted early on, was to take advantage of all the services we were being provided, because I knew that T would age out of these services at 6 without a diagnosis.

A year flew by and I was matched with a PHD student completing a practicum. We met once every two weeks after my work.

After she completed her practicum and left six months later, the psychologist whom served as her supervisor decided to keep me as a client.

I will forever be grateful for this, because her support the last 3+ years has truly helped me become a better parent.

Our sessions were typically an hour. It was and wasn’t what I expected a relationship with a psychologist to be.

In one sense, yes, there was a lot of talking. I talked and surprised myself with how open I was.

On the other hand, there was none of that deep analysis of my childhood or subconscious – or me breaking down in tears – that I expected thanks to how counseling is portrayed in pop culture. Not that there is anything wrong with that, just so we’re clear!

I talked a lot. We met every 3-4 weeks – and virtually during the pandemic – and I always came prepared with a list of the things that had happened with T and/or that was on my mind.

Our early conversations were less candid. It was a relationship after all and like any relationship, trust and comfort must be built first. But thankfully, they were built very quickly.

With no offense intended to the practicum student, who has a bright future ahead of her, working with the seasoned psychologist was different, because she instinctively knew, through years of experience, when to listen and when to probe and even challenge me.

She was not just someone who listened and validated my concerns but she became a trusted coach.

When T got kicked out of the Montessori program, when the public school board cancelled the specialized kindergarten program he was in, whenever I had to meet with school board staff to advocate for resource supports for T, the psychologist and I strategized and she coached me with wonderful advice from her years of experience working with families like ours.

I also want to add that many of the sessions we had together were also spent celebrating the milestones and successes that T has had. Being able to take a step back and to reflect with an objective person was also helpful in recognizing the gifts that we are blessed with.

I am very thankful that in recent years, open and frank conversations about mental health are being had and that there is a concerted effort to reduce stigma surrounding mental well-being.

I truly believe in saying that it is ok to not be ok.

In my case, being a special needs parent has changed my life profoundly – in positively rewarding and crushingly challenging ways.

Reading the experience of other parents going through their own journey has been inspiring. One common thread I repeatedly see is the feeling of stress, exhaustion, helplessness, loneliness and being misunderstood.

I’ve felt all those emotions in varying degrees.

As someone whose family has benefitted immensely from the social services available in our community – and I acknowledge this privilege, as I know that many others are not as fortunate – I can testify that there is no shame or embarrassment in asking for help.

In fact, it is essential for your survival.

Special needs parenting is a long game and I know that every day is a few more meters that I run – or stumble and fumble – in this life-long marathon.

Taking care of myself mentally, emotionally and physically and spiritually are important in allowing me to be the best parent to T, which also happens to be just one of the many hats I wear in life, along with husband, son, friend, employee and so on.

I became a better parent because of the psychologist that I had the blessing to have been matched with.

At our last session, I made sure to spend time to thank her and to tell her how much her support has meant to me and how she has made my life, and in return, T’s life, better.

For the first time in the three years that we’ve been meeting, we both teared up and got emotional.

Can you spot my cameo in this wonderful video promoting the incredible services of Surrey Place? It was taken during one of my counseling sessions before the pandemic.

25 thoughts on “How Counseling Helped Me Become a Better Parent

    1. Thank you, Gary. It’s been a godsend to me, for sure. 🙏 And in turn, has helped me be more full and able for the little guy. 🙏

  1. “I am very thankful that in recent years, open and frank conversations about mental health are being had and that there is a concerted effort to reduce stigma surrounding mental well-being.”—Yes, now maybe people will get the help they need. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for visiting. Yes, I hope people recognize that it’s ok to ask for and to get help. It’s perfectly normal and nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. 🙏

  2. Sorry to hear that your psychologist is retiring. Many people think they can tackle everything by themselves. I love your approach to utilize all the services available. It’s okay to ask for help or advice, or just have someone to talk with. It’s great to be able to strategize with someone and leverage their past experiences. And yes, it’s totally okay not to be okay 100% of the time. No one ever is, so why pretend? Thanks for sharing the video about Surrey Place. That’s awesome that you made an appearance near the beginning! I actually work near Surrey Place and have been to their coffee place a few times. It’s pretty incredible that it’s operated by people with developmental disabilities. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Linda

    1. Thanks for sharing, Linda. Our paths may have crossed in the past and we just didn’t know it. 😊

      Pre pandemic, I was there every few weeks around 5:30. The coffee shop they run is great for the opportunities it provides to employees. It was my routine to grab a hot chocolate before my counseling appointment.

      Enjoy your weekend too and try not to melt!

      1. It’s such a small world! When this pandemic is over we should meet up there for a coffee, tea or hot chocolate.

        This weekend was definitely a scorcher, especially yesterday! Hopefully you got some swimming in before the pools close.

      2. Sounds like a plan! Hopefully it’ll be sometime this year or decade! 😆🤞🏻 Do you know when you return to the office?

        Yes the weekend was quite hot. We did a small hike locally and thankfully it was overcast and bearable. We swam for 15 minutes on Saturday before they closed the pool cuz of thunder. 😑

        Have a great week. Almost roadtrip time!

      3. We’re supposed to start returning this fall for 2-3 days in the office per week, but timelines are still TBD. We’ve been told we have to give up our offices though as they plan on spacing people out in every other office due to COVID restrictions (apparently COVID can spread through the walls??). Similar to camping, we are expected to leave no trace, meaning that we have to take everything home with us each day and can’t leave anything behind. There are no lockers or spaces for people to leave their personal belongings. I wonder how long that will last! Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to returning to the office. What about you? Will you have to return to the office?

      4. That’s very interesting and also frustrating too I can imagine. The no locker or space for belongings will be an issue for sure. 🙂 We don’t know yet when we are expected to be back but I would guess sometime this fall. 🤞🏻

      5. It’ll be a huge adjustment, that’s for sure. I’m curious to see how it will all work out. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they end up cancelling our return to the workplace plan or have to make modifications. A lot can happen over the next few weeks, so I’m trying not to stress about it too much.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story and inspiring relationship with your Psychologist. Going through a rough battle of heart and mind myself, almost like a PTSD and early sept. I will have my first session. I’m kind of anxious. I’m not really comfortable talking to a stranger of all that boils from within. But I trust faith that it’s for the best. We all need support even if we do a lot of supporting for others. Self care, self love, peace and happiness are very important so we can give back even more for those we love. It makes us healthy and productive. Truly appreciate your blog friendship. Your comments are always inspiring, positive, hopeful. God bless. 🙏☀️

    1. Thank you for sharing that!

      I thought a lot about health care workers during this pandemic – and it was very interesting to hear from one (you) directly about the experience of the pandemic from the perspective of a frontline worker. Especially in a place like the United States during the Trump years. I can’t even imagine the mental and emotional toll it took on you and your colleagues. But you had a healthy attitude about it.

      Kudos to you for booking a session. I hope it goes well and that you get the relief and comfort that you are seeking. If you approach your conversation like you do with your blog – with openness and thoughtfulness – I think it will be a good experience for you.

      Good luck! 🤞🏻🤞🏻🤞🏻 And likewise, it has been great discovering your blog and your blog friendship. 😊 Take care.

      1. Thank you. Mental health has been featured in the news but even our work administration and management don’t take it seriously or care to address it where changes needs to happen quick. The Heroes propaganda last year worked because healthcare workers thought it was sincere and thought people could change but this year, the truth and reality has never been more clear. In America, many still don’t care about hospital surges that is actually neglecting all medical emergencies and critical care. A veteran just died in Houston because no hospital will take him for pancreatitis that is so treatable. For every bed taken by an unvaccinated, non-mask believer covid patient, another patient suffering life threatening condition will be refused when no ICU bed. People will die because someone was selfish. We can also use the word ignorant or hesitant but we all know it’s a choice made regardless of events and science. No excuse really to have a surge after surge after an effective vaccine is already 9 months on the market. Take care.

      2. I have to agree with you this one. A lot of lip service empty of sincerity from our leaders. Once this pandemic passes, we will have a mental health pandemic of people of all ages and walks of life. I do still hope we can turn this around. We just have to!

      3. Thanks for the Honesty. Mental Health is already big now but many are just ignoring them. These are real people whose hearts and souls are screaming to be help. When we truly listen to people, we can spot right away what they go through because we too are experiencing them. This year, many of the so called “Heroes,” have given up and I can’t blame them. If Winter COVID Tsunami happens, many may loose their lives because of critical under staffing. This part both the government and its citizens needs to correct and address. It’s inevitable if many refuse to change and adapt.

      4. Yes, health care workers have been going at it nonstop and the burnout is very real. I’m worried what a fourth wave and hospital overcapacity will do for frontline workers this winter. Let’s hope the tsunami does not happen!

  4. I think I spotted you near the beginning! Absolutely wonderful that you had such a great therapist for so long, it can be hard to match with the right person for you so I’m thrilled for you. She has clearly made an impact on your life for the better, and for T too.

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