Month: October 2016

Halloween Transitions -Growing Up The Exceptional Way


Halloween preparation this year has been fun as always, but in a different way than usual. Yes, we had the decorating time, we bought his costume a while back and Michael has been talking excitedly about going out trick or treating later tonight, but in other years, he was always nervous and excited about Halloween. This year he is just excited, and has a more grown up attitude about Halloween. Let’s face it, he’s almost a preteen, so he is growing up. He expressed with interest going to see a friend’s Halloween set up which was really scary. He and his family go all out. Last year I had been afraid to take him to visit the decorations as he would scare easily. This year Michael’s complaint was that the decorations were too babyish and he was wanted more scary stuff. He even expressed interest to go to a famous amusement park in our neck of the woods that does scary Halloween stuff really well. Dad and I were shocked, but due to his packed extra curricular schedule, we did not go. Maybe next year.

Still, as his Mom, I have to say that this whole new way of celebrating Halloween and its scary side is a novelty for me as Michael’s Mom. I am seeing in this, as well as in other things, how fast he is growing up and wanting to be a little adult. Then, it’s confusing for both of us, as he will go through a testing stage that is more suited to a younger age group, as he didn’t do that milestone at four or five years old. I am also seeing more insistence on social boundaries with me; what he will tell me, who he wants and does not want to play or be friends with, and what activities, foods he does or does not like. Some of it is legitimate and accurate, other things are always him seeing how far he can go with us. I think he is seeing where he starts and we end. All of this is normal, and as proud as I am of this milestone, there are times I want to pull my hair out as there is so much guesswork with an Exceptional Child and where their brain is at.

I am happy we will be trick or treating with a very good friend tomorrow night, and Michael is very excited with his school Halloween party and haunted house tomorrow. He has already informed me in advance he will be up early due to excitement. His hyper awareness is a gift and a curse at the same time, as it makes him take so much to heart. I feel bad for him, but am proud too to see the strides he is making in the world in understanding himself in relation to others.

Exceptional Parents, how do you celebrate Halloween with your Exceptional Child/dren? What is their awareness and/or fears of the holiday? Hopefully as they get older they can participate and have a few friends they enjoy going trick or treating with. They will have traditions they enjoy participating in with you, and they will finally see where Mom and Dad end and they begin, but also that they will be forever connected to their parents and that Exceptional Parents are always there for their Exceptional Children no matter what. Until next time.

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5 Ways To Teach Empathy and Show Love-Exceptional Mom and Son Lessons

So empathy is a hard thing for people with autism to understand, or least, the way we neuro typical people see empathy and feeling for another person. It is not due to insensitivity or cruelty, but rather due to a different way of seeing the world. I have noticed with Michael that as he gets older it is easier in some ways to communicate his frustration, angst and anxiety in himself and towards another person, but harder to feel sympathy for the other person in question. For example, he will laugh at a friend who is struggling or feeling embarrassed if it doesn’t fit in with what the friend is supposed to be doing, yet doesn’t see the many struggles he has socially fitting in or people that may look at him strangely due to social challenges of how to talk and engage with other people.

Michael has also reflected back to me times I have struggled in being more understanding and forgiving, by telling me he is doing the best that he can when I have lost my temper with him.  It has reminded me that I need to be a good mirror to Michael of not only how to do things right, but when I make a mistake, how I can correct myself and show him what NOT to do.  With Michael’s help, I have found  5 ways to show empathy and teach love. I have shown some to Michael and he has shown others to me.

  1. Listen to what the other person is saying: This sounds obvious, but what I really mean is to REALLY listen to the tone they are using when they talk about things, to the words they are not saying that will sometimes slip out unconsciously. You bring up an event your child does not want to go to and they begin to swear or get angry or insult. The child obviously feels scared or threatened, but does not know how to show this. You immediately get angry. Try to take a deep breath, and ask them to explain as best they can.
  2. Watch their body language: Kids and adults when uncomfortable, will carry themselves a certain way, shoulders more tense, hunched, maybe moving a lot, fidgeting. This is a sign of stress. Wait and let them find the space to tell you their thoughts.
  3.  Show them love when they are being difficult: This is easily the hardest of the five to do. When someone is being rude, insensitive or cruel, it is hard to love them. We feel betrayed and angry, but acceptance is essential so they know we are there. Michael and I have hurt each other in anger, but now are both learning to forgive one another so we can move forward and make progress.
  4. Put yourself in the person’s shoes : This is hard for our kids with autism who have a difficult time with abstract thinking. Even for those of us who do not have autism, we are sometimes stuck in a pattern of self-pity and personal stress so we can’t see past that when we are angry at someone or jealous of them. Make an effort to get past your own negative feelings.
  5. Practice caring scenarios with your child and see how you can reach out to others: This is a good exercise that you can do with your child in order to teach them how to reach out to others who are struggling, scared, and alone. Do this yourself as a a parent too. Give to charities, help the needy in your community, and make helping others a major part of your family life.

Exceptional Parents, how do you teach empathy and love to your Exceptional Children? What has and has not worked? Remember, trial and error is part of life for all of us. Teach your child to learn from their mistakes, and not beat themselves up. Only when they (and you), can let go of past failures in personal relationships, can embrace a happier and healthier future. Until next time.

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Keeping Busy and Having Choices-How This Has Helped My Son With Autism Handle Anxiety Better

Michael has a lot of anxiety. I have talked about this in previous posts, and will touch on it from time to time as it is an important part of what he and many other children with autism must live with every day. I constantly am amazed though by how well he does lately in handling his anxious thoughts and feelings. He is beginning to ask questions about techniques he could use, remembering he can’t hit his head, the wall, or other people or things, and where he can go to calm down. What most impresses me is how he is connecting activity and movement to regulating his emotions and calming down.

“Mommy, I changed my mind about baking tonight. Can we go to the park and finish playing tennis and bake another night. I need to move Mommy.”

I am so impressed with him and how he is learning to read his body and mind. I am impressed with how good his tennis game and other physical skills are improving, and even though I cringe when I hear how hard on himself he is when he misses the tennis ball, or gets stuck on a word in reading, I am calmly able to point out to him it’s ok, we all make mistakes. Lately, he has been saying it back to me if he hears me saying it to myself. What is striking me is how far he has come in identifying his feelings, his likes, and dislikes. He will tell me who his “real” friends are, “my best buddies are”, and who are friends that he is not as close to. He does not want hugs “because I am a big boy”, but at night wants cuddles for a few minutes. He is my baby, my preteen, and my teenager all in one.

Where we are still grappling with is Michael’s difficulty letting go of worrying about the future. He will come up with elaborate scenarios of what will go wrong, what he will hate on a field trip, at an activity, and I will have to remind him one day at a time. He will also experience something he does not want to hear from me, and will say, quite dramatically, “now my day at school will be ruined tomorrow.” Again,  I tell him stories of how I used to think that way when I was little, and how I suffered a lot because of it when I did not need to. I teach him strategies like taking it one day at a time, looking at the positive things in his life, and venting about it for a bit before moving on. What is helping Michael  is something I had completely overlooked prior to the last few months; giving him the floor to be heard and a choice of what he can say and do. That freedom is helping him handle anxiety a lot better.

Exceptional Parents, what kind of surprises do your Exceptional Children throw your way? How have they impressed you with their insight, ability to cope, and intelligence? Do you remember to give them a positive choice in how they could respond to things? Do you let them talk and have the floor? This will make a big difference in their ability to handle things in their world. Until next time.

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What This Exceptional Mom Learned When She Underestimated Her Exceptional Child

So yesterday morning Michael did it again. What, you ask? He surprised me big time, and made me feel like a fool for underestimating his ability to listen and follow rules. My child has always been quick to get ready in the morning. But never never would I have thought with ten minutes to go until his school bus came, would my child have been able in pajamas to finish breakfast, get dressed, and brush teeth by the time the bus arrived a short time later. He not only did it and was just finishing a quick pee, but when I raced in upset to tell the bus had arrived, even managed to tell me he’d be right out. Of course, I hadn’t heard that. I was having a stressful morning and thinking the worst, that this would once again be a morning we would fight about him being ready etc. He would have made the bus wait an extra five minutes tops. But I sent the bus away. When I came back inside, there stood a fully dressed and shocked Michael that I hadn’t given him a chance.

I was ashamed of myself for thinking my child couldn’t be ready on time, but I had also told Michael that in future, he needed to be ready waiting outside with me on the driveway when the bus came. On the drive into school we talked about how rude it is to make people wait. We both learned a lesson about trust, communication, and waiting. It was surprising and impressive to me that I could have this discussion with my little guy, and then I remembered, Joanne, he is a smart and creative little boy. If you stay calm and explain things to him he will get it. Don’t be afraid to trust him. Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts as his Mom. That was the problem. Lately I have been so stressed with work, home, parenting, and trying to do it all so darn well and perfectly. Nothing is perfect, including life. As parents, we need to let go, coast a while, be patient with our kids and ourselves. If work isn’t going how we want it to, pray, breathe and stay positive. Open ourselves up to better things and better things will happen. It’s the same with parenting. We need to open ourselves up to our kids, be patient and kind, and  really see what they need. Chances are they will reflect that positive vibe back to us.

Exceptional Parents, when have you last underestimated your child’s ability to deal with stress? Remember, they are only as strong as you give them credit for, and they will surprise you if you give them the benefit of the doubt. How do you feel when you are given the benefit of the doubt? Your child deserves that and more. None of us is perfect. We need to learn from our mistakes and not be afraid to move forward from there. Until next time.

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Keeping Busy Versus Over Stimulation-6 Ways Parents Can Plan Out A Reasonable PED Day

Yesterday was another PED DAY. Michael was thrilled that he was home from school and looking forward to his day off. For me, it was great to have him home, and we enjoyed doing stuff together, but it was, as usual, about finding the balance in not overdoing activity and becoming overstimulated. This is a tricky one for Michael and me. Yesterday we crossed the line on over stimulation. At the end of the day, I  realized I had scheduled too much for him. It’s hard for him these days as there is so much nervous energy, and I know if we under plan the day then there are fights due to boredom and under stimulation.

I sat back last night, and as usual when we have challenges in the later part of the day, thought of how can I best address this for the future? What can I learn and share with parents so we all can see when we are crossing the line of busy into over stimulation? Here are 6  ways parents can plan out a reasonable PED DAY:

  1. Structure the day reasonably according to your child’s temperament: A reasonable day for one child may be one place where the child stays for the day. Another child may need two places, in the am and one in the pm. Believe it or not, mine likes three to four places as he in constantly moving and learning, and having a change of environment. He can do two, one in the am, and one in the pm to break up his day, but they need to be VERY engaging. Go with your child’s flow.
  2. Make sure child (and you) are rested: Having a good night’s sleep for both of you is mandatory to being able to function at your best and have fun.
  3. Give them breaks between activities: This is where I went wrong yesterday. Even us veteran Exceptional parents make those mistakes. He went to a park and to run some errands in the am, but then had an hour lunch break to prepare for the afternoon. In the pm though, he went from one busy place to another. Next time, transition break.
  4. Make sure to limit sugar: On PED DAYS it’s not that it is junk food mayhem, but let’s face it, friends come over and Moms will put out the cookies and goodies, myself included. It’s important we make sure our kids don’t have too much sugar, juice, and anything that can add to the hyperactivity.
  5. Offer a reward system for good listening: We are still using tokens and they work for most of the time. There are lots of options available. You need to find what works for you.
  6. Give your child focused attention to talk about what is happening: It’s important on PED DAYS to also have some quiet talking time. Michael and I had a little bit at the beginning and end of the day, though I may have had less patience at the end of the day to see what the bedtime stalling was signalling; the stress of back to school the next day. Try to pace yourself better too to be able to handle the after dinner/homework/bedtime battles.


Exceptional Parents, what do you do on PED DAYS to keep your Exceptional Children busy? Are they in childcare, with other caregivers, or with you? There are lots of options available. The most important thing to remember is to structure their days so they feel excited, calm, and will have a fun and successful day. There will be ups and downs. Celebrate the ups and learn from the downs. Remember, look for signs of your child having fun and being over the top, and let them guide you in how you can make further adjustments. They are raising you as much as you are raising them! Until next time.


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Assertion and Limit Setting-How this Exceptional Mom Is Finding the Balance


Michael’s character is changing faster than meets the eye, in a good yet challenging way. It is both bewildering and exciting, and combine that with a busy work schedule and pushing through my own personal boundaries, and well, it makes for a crazy life lately. We are dealing with different feelings about friends, activities, and learning how to impose reasonable limit setting on what behavior his Dad and I expect of him. We are telling him that it is alright to not agree with everything we are saying and we sometimes feel the same, but respect, remaining calm and in the moment, as well as present-centered, is what is the most important thing.

Michael is great at negotiating. He will try and see what he can get away with, where he can push, and if he is not able to push beyond what is considered reasonable and we are firm, a small fight will ensue. It used to be a big fight. But now he is learning how to control his emotions better overall. Still, empathy and respect for others’ feelings is something that is hard to understand. And his Dad and I are having to constantly readjust our parenting. I was told that if he starts testing, doing milestones that were not done when younger, and showing more emotion, then it meant that he is coming into his own. It is obvious and we are happy to see that. But are there any tools we are using to help reach Michael in his new developmental phase? Yes. Here they are:

  1. Make regular time to talk to your child about their feelings: This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s not easy with parents so busy with work, other children, and stuff around the house. Still, you need to make that five to ten minutes a day time to really listen to your child and hear them. They will sense it and start opening up.
  2. Give them some control: This is imperative. We have made sure to give Michael some control over some things. Things like do you want to watch a video or color, do you want to read a book or go to the park? Despite the fact that many kids over test their boundaries, this is more than ever cause to give them some choice in determining their future, with limits of course. And if you over give as Michael’s Dad and I realized we did, eliminating something from his schedule that we did not need to, you can always play catch up later.
  3. When they are acting out, look for the why behind the behavior:  This one has me baffled a lot of the time. However, now I am beginning to see that when Michael really challenges us, is when he is feeling taxed to the max and does not know how else to be heard.Our response is to calmly assess and see the why behind the behavior. And if not, listen till we figure it out.
  4. Have a set schedule of activities: Routine will really help kids in feeling in control, and their parents in handling things better too. 🙂 I speak from personal experience here. Yesterday morning Michael was nervous and I was not far behind due to us having forgotten to set the daily schedule. Then I suggested: “construction paper to plan out the day.” And guess what, success. Control was back in the land!

Exceptional Parents, how have your Exceptional Children tested you? Have you passed with flying colors? Have they? It’s ok if it’s been a struggle. As always, take from the struggle the lesson. What could you do differently next time to set the example for them? The suggestions given above are simply guidelines. You have to tailor rules that work for your child and your family. Remember Moms and Dads, you know best. And if you need support, don’t hesitate to reach out. Until next time.

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Pushing Through Fear-Techniques for Exceptional Parents and Their Children

So you are afraid. You are afraid of sickness, danger, money problems, job problems, relationship stress. We are all afraid. It’s normal. Fear is normal. But remember, what we as parents feel as fear our kids with autism fear double. Autism will do that, along with its co-morbid conditions of OCD, Anxiety Disorder and other things that make navigating the fear of daily living difficult at best. That’s why having a plan is really important when navigating day to day life with your child, and why sometimes, having no plan can work too. You may have to wing it and introduce other things like personal stories from your life.

Michael is a child that does not forget ANYTHING. He will remember what happened on a play date two months ago that went wrong or right. He will remember when I made a mistake in handling a situation two months ago. He will also worry about the future, past, and the present. I have learned how to navigate these situations with him. Writing a Social Story here, or talking about scenarios there have helped. Also, talking to him about my fears has helped.

How did I do this? I encourage him that fear is ok. For too many years I thought if I had fear and thought negatively I would be punished. The wrath of God would come crashing down. Hey, I’m a writer. We can get a little melodramatic. 🙂 But seriously, I avoided anything negative, stress, dark thoughts. I couldn’t be having them. If I was, it meant I wasn’t happy. I was failing. Then after getting therapy, starting meditation and really really beginning to talk to people around me, I realized as the REM song states, “Everybody Hurts.” We all have pain. We all suffer from time to time. We also all have joy and passion and laughter in our lives. It’s up to us to learn to tap into all of it, the joy, the pain, the passion and come out the other side. Only when we can do this as parents, will we be able to show our Exceptional Children how they can do it. This is no easy task, but is doable. We need to trust in the process.

Exceptional Parents, how do you help your Exceptional Children through the dark times in their lives? It’s important they learn that there will be dark or hard times and light or easy times. It’s important they learn healthy strategies to cope: talking, laughter, meditation, exercise, time with family and friends. Without a balance, all is lost. You are your child’s best teacher. Show them all the colors of your emotional rainbow and they will learn to come out the other side of fear unscathed. Until next time .

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Removing the Word Guilt From Your Parenting Handbook


Guilt. This is a hard concept for a lot of us to wrap our heads around. I for one am still working on it. And, like with many other things, Michael is helping me learn to overcome it, by first feeling it so intensely in my heart and then releasing it. I feel it on nights when I fail him and lose my temper as happened last evening, and my good intentions go out the window. Then I remember it’s ok to fail once in a while. That is how we learn, move, and grow. It’s ok to get angry, after all, I am a human being with my own thoughts and feelings and I’m entitled to feeling overwhelmed, tired and stressed too, just like him.

I was feeling tired yesterday, and I didn’t even realize the resentment building up over the course of the day. I pushed aside my feelings of an overwhelming to-do list, some of it necessary, some of it not.  Dad was distracted too with his things, and when Michael feels that he will push a little more at times, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously with stalling for bed, with attention seeking behaviors, or with just pushing his luck. Normally, I can distance myself from it. But when I also am tired and feeling underappreciated and a little sorry for myself, well, we all know what happens. The solution is not just self-care, but self-care with no guilt attached to it. It is self-care for survival so there are no strings attached for the people you love.

I did a full workout yesterday morning. I have been attending my writing workshops. I have been reaching out to friends. I have been producing my normal workload and even keeping up reasonably with my share of the house duties. But have I been doing this and on some level feeling guilty about not being there for Michael? And he has had his challenges. His anxiety about things is so high and he has made such progress. Does he not know how proud I am? I know with autism things are so much harder. I don’t know. Dad and I also need to sit down and talk. We haven’t done that in awhile and there old guilt pops up again that I am failing as a wife too, though I know it works both ways with two of us needing to set a time to talk, unburden, and move forward. Time is so precious. It’s how to use it properly that’s important.

Exceptional Parents, do you feel guilty sometimes as a parent? Do you feel you are shortchanging your child or yourself? Remember, you are not alone. We all have what I call “do over days” where we look back and can see our thoughts processes and where we went wrong. We also have days where we are amazingly successful as parents. It’s important to learn from both days what to do and not do, and in the meantime, remember we are a parent who loves our child more than anything and is doing the best that we can. Until next time.

Tired of anxiety controlling you and your family? Download my FREE EBOOK ON “5 WAYS TO HANDLE EXCEPTIONAL FAMILY ANXIETY” at:


A Milestone Achieved: My Exceptional Son Recognize His Own Fear Triggers

Michael did it to me again. He both shocked and surprised me in one breath, something that is commonplace for my  little boy. He has been struggling for a few months now with identifying what is causing him anxiety and anger, and seeing how the thoughts cause the actions he chooses to take. The other day though, he had a massive breakthrough. It was late Sunday afternoon. He had come back with his Dad from his usual busy day of going to his favorite shopping center, a father/son drive, tennis, and an outing to a fair that had face painting and rock and roll music. To say it was a busier day than normal is an understatement. I heard them come in from my basement office where I was working, and then the rush of excited little feet pounding down the stairs to share with me the adventures of his afternoon with Dad. This time though after quickly giving me the rundown and basic details of his day, the next words out of Michael’s mouth shocked me:

“Mommy, could we go walk around a shopping mall now? I know it’s raining so we can’t do a nature walk.”

He was happy, but I recognized an urgency in this voice I hadn’t sensed before. I quietly told him that it was five o’clock. He’d been out all day, dinner would be soon and he still had homework to do. Then, totally unlike himself he burst into tears:

“But Mommy, I have to go out. I can’t stay home. I don’t want to think about my vaccination on Tuesday morning. I need to be away from home so I don’t think. Please, please Mommy.” And he cried even harder.

Via: Morguefile


Are you as shocked as I was? He actually uttered those words. The vaccination in question was the HEP A/HEP B which is recommended for children in grade four like Michael, and we had talked about him getting it. I knew he was nervous. It was the same thing when he had blood tests and got his chicken pox vaccine, but we had talked about it on Thursday evening as Friday I had to sign the forms and return them to school for processing. I did not know he was still turning around all that stress in his little mind.

“Honey, you’ll have to come home eventually. You can’t stay out forever. I’m proud that you are recognizing your fears and how you cope with it. But we can talk some more .You don’t need to suffer alone. Here are some things you can do.”

And that we did. We went over what would happen, how he would cope and that his classmates and teachers would be there. I am still amazed and proud of how he is starting to connect things. Even when he talks about his “Stimming Lady” telling him what to do, he seems very much in control of where he wants to go and what he wants to do. He likes  reminders about expected behavior and what happens with good vs bad behavior. He is growing up. Another thing I noticed which pleased me. Twice this week unexpected things happened to our after school plans. Michael not only handled it well, but was calm and matter of fact about the change.

Exceptional Parents, how do your Exceptional Children handle change and anxiety? Are they learning to use words or actions to describe how they feel? Do they have strategies to manage it, sensory, verbal or  whatever works for them? The worst thing a parent can do is minimize the stress even if it is something small. Always listen. Always wait for them to finish talking or expressing themselves. Then offer strategies, show pictures or videos of what they could do. Remember, they are little sponges and will pick up what is being said to them over and over, good and bad. You are their role model. Until next time.

Tired of anxiety controlling you and your family? Download my FREE EBOOK ON “5 WAYS TO HANDLE EXCEPTIONAL FAMILY ANXIETY” at:

Spiritual Confusion, A Lost Social Milestone, and Handling What We Can’t Control

I am feeling sad sometimes these days and experiencing  a heavy heart. Michael refuses to come to church with me. I saw it coming last year; all his questions, his boredom, everything being over his head. It is also so abstract, God, an  entity in the universe he can’t feel or touch. Lots of neuro typical adults and kids have trouble with the concept. Yet still, going to church was something we did as a family. It got difficult for Dad to come, then it was Michael, now I go alone. I stayed away all summer knowing the summer was hard for him, and hoping, like last year, I could bring him back with me. No luck this year.

I finally realized I would have to go myself. And what’s so bad about that? It’s great in a way. I can fully be present at mass and worship. I am experiencing church in a more relaxed way.  But I miss him. I miss his interruptions and questions and us going as a family. I have experienced going to different masses hoping that changing masses and seeing different faces would be less painful for me, but no luck. Instead I just missed the wonderful people at the children’s mass that I know and love. And, I realized I deserved to have my Sunday worship space back. Also, I am a stubborn woman. I do still hope that Michael will change his mind and come back to church with me. But I have let go of worrying. It wasn’t serving either of us.

Why am I taking this so hard? Well, you see, I wanted to give Michael the same upbringing, more or less, that I had had. I wanted to expose him to the same ideas and have him decide when he was older what he accepted or rejected.  I also wanted him to know he has a home in our church, and that there are people outside of our special needs community that understand and respect him.  Was I making my child a poster child? I don’t think so. In my own way, I wanted to normalize autism and disabilities and show Michael that who he is is something to be celebrated. He didn’t want this anymore though, and I have to accept t and respect his decision. I also viewed his moving away from church as a lost milestone of functioning in the non adapted world. Did he lose the skill? He has talked a lot about his social fears lately. Then I realized no. You and he did not fail. This is a skill he must learn in his own time. We’ve gone from him getting upset when I pray or talk about God, to understanding that it is my right to pray as it is his not to, for now. I am doing the best I can for my son. And, my son is an amazing little boy doing his best too. We must each do our best, follow or own path, and the Universe and God will show us each the way.

Exceptional Parents, where have you felt you failed your child? How have you beaten yourself up for simply doing the best and sometimes things not working out? Have you felt a milestone of progress has been lost?   First of all, you did not fail. It’s ok. You’re human. They’re human. You are doing the best you can as a parent. You cannot blame yourself for everything that does not work out. You are not a therapist, and you do not need to solve every problem your child has. All you have to do is go with their flow, love them for who they are, and take care of loving and respecting who you are and what you need. Until next time.


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