Exit Ramp: Journaling for parents: a place for expression and healing
My amazing son George is 15 years old. For the last 12 years, since his autism diagnosis, my husband and I have been on a spiritual and emotional journey to become the most connected and loving parents we can be to our son. We’ve experienced immense challenges — both with his struggles and with getting the services and educational placement that he needs. We’ve learned to summon our strength and call on support from friends and family to guide us during times of challenge — and to be with George through the unique journey of his life.
For me, journaling about my parenting journey has been essential to my healing. Journaling allows me to tell my own story. When I write, I don’t need to respond to anyone’s projections or visions.
Through the ups and downs of the challenges that my husband and I have faced coming to understand how best to meet our son’s needs, I’ve met, shared with, laughed, and cried with so many resilient, insightful, spiritual, funny parents who are doing what I’m doing — extreme parenting with no road map, taking life not one day, but one hour and sometimes one minute at a time.
Despite the intensity of the experience, many, though certainly not all, of us live with a sense of purpose and even a sense of peace. I’ve recently created a journal designed for parents who are raising kids with disabilities in hopes that other parents find that writing can lead to healing, too. (By the way — I’ve heard from parents raising “typical” kids that they really appreciate the journal, too!)
Authenticity — you don’t need to be an inspiration
We’ve all heard the comments — “God knew you could handle this” or “I could never do what you do.” There’s nothing I detest more than someone hanging one of those meaningless clichés onto my experience. Too often, people with disabilities are expected to be “inspiration” to the rest of us and I’ve found that people can similarly objectify the parenting experience of those of us raising kids with significant needs.
In my journal, you are not responsible for inspiring anyone. Be authentic — when you’re sad, scared, or just unmotivated, write about it. When you’re full of faith and focus, write about that. Know that most days, most of us feel all of those things.
Our lives are incredibly busy and we have so many demands on our time. No one is going to give us permission to reflect — we need to claim that time. For some of us, that means creating a ritual…whether it’s 15 minutes before bed, when kids are napping, or when we’re waiting in line for pick-up, you can keep your journal nearby so it’s there for you.
As you begin the process of journaling, notice the ways that you change and grow. You may want to date the pages so you can go back and forward in time reading your reflections.
You’re allowed to just be with what’s hard
On those days when you want to cry, scream, drink, leave…turn to journaling. Write. You don’t need to sugar coat your story. You’re allowed to be present with what is hard, to capture it on the page.
Sometimes, we discover a lesson or a meaning from what we experience and what we capture in our stories. And sometimes, we don’t. Sometimes journaling is pure venting and release. And that is just fine.