Now & Next- Family Resilience and Working as a Team
Before my son was diagnosed with ASD, my husband and I had always been an incredible team. Life, for the most part had felt like we were in it together- facing both our challenges and dreams as one. Once we had the diagnosis, however, I quickly immersed myself in every book, paper and article I could find on ASD. Every moment of my day was either dedicated to therapy with my son or research. My poor husband didn’t get a look in most of the time. Occasionally I would freak out and ask him his opinion on this therapy or that but most of the time I took full responsibility for finding out what was best for my son. My husband did all he could to help out but inevitably as time went on I felt that we were no longer the powerful team that I had so treasured. I felt isolated, alone and sometimes even resentful when he walked out the door to work.
Now & Next allowed us to find that team again. For the first time in along time we began to dream together again… We weren’t in the mode of catastrophe and panic, which had dominated most of our discussions post-diagnosis. We were able to sit down together and talk about what we wanted for ourselves, Harry and us as a family. To start with it felt like such an indulgence to take a few hours out of every Saturday for eight weeks but as the time went on I realised, no this is invaluable! Working with the same objectives in mind gave us a synergy. We had decided on these goals together, so we were both equally invested in making them happen. We brought our own unique strengths to the table and worked through the 5-window approach (a process outlined in the course) and actually made our goals happen. I realised that before the course I had been working on specific goals with my son but hadn’t explained my strategies to my husband. So when he suddenly would change a routine I would get resentful because he didn’t understand what I was trying to achieve. When you have time to debrief on gaols you have time to see the process your partner is going through… Their dreams, hopes and why they are insisting on certain things. It opens up space for empathy, encouragement and support.
There was also something therapeutic about hearing other people’s stories. When I heard a dad speak about the challenges he had with trying to provide the financial support to keep the family afloat, it put into perspective the pressure my husband is under to keep his good job and meet demands outside the family. Personally, hearing other families stories made me feel less alone, but what I hadn’t realised until we did the course was that my husband hadn’t really spoken to others at all about our circumstances before. In some ways, I had a small outlet; My son’s therapists, MyTime and numerous Facebook support groups. Now & Next gave my husband his first opportunity to really unpack our situation.
Together, we learnt many important principles during our time doing Now & Next. The advantage I feel in doing the course together means that we now always have that shorthand dialogue. We can gently remind each other when we forget key components. For example not long after we did Now & Next I was lucky enough to become a Peer Parent Facilitator. It was an amazing experience but to begin with all the work I had done on looking after myself and spending time as a family went out the window! I was too busy and excited and run-off-my feet to notice. Clayton quickly stepped in and said, “I think you are forgetting the key lessons from Now & Next.” He was totally right. I was able then to readjust and get some balance back; Focus in on some of our important short-term goals and take the time to look after myself.
Creating time and space to work on family resilience is not a luxury. Our child’s progress is not just reliant on mum or therapy. It’s about making the whole family dynamic work. I would urge any couple out there who have the chance to attend the course together to do it. We need our foundations to be strong. It’s not about blame or comparison or guilt about who does more, or who does it tougher. It’s about building up our resilience to nurture resilient, competent, confident children and to enjoy the ride while we are at it.
Why I entered the program
Well to be honest…….(oh dear that’s never a good start….onward!)…..well to be honest….I enrolled in the course firstly because my wife wanted to do the course, wanted to do it together with me and because when I looked at the course and content I thought, well, there is much I am ignorant of, much I could learn, so even if I learn just one thing a week I’m still in front and I get to have my wife still speaking with me. So, those things and “No” not being an option were the crucial deciders.
Many months later with the dust now well settled and my wife now a Parent Facilitator on the program I have been handed another question. A question that closely resembles a poison chalice and rates right up there with “do you think this dress still fits or is it too tight?” The questions is this. “What benefits would you say you gained by doing the course as a couple? Fortunately the chalice is full of a Grand Cru Burgundy with no hint of poison within.
The answer for me is this: Even for couples where both halves participate in the raising of their child or children, there tends to be a demarcation of certain duties that fall to the one of the other. There may be some that are shared such as nappy changes and feeding for example but practicality and time management often dictate which of the child raising duties, become the remit of which parent. So although the overall objective is shared, that of making little human s who will grow to have all our positive traits, none of our failings and a swag of additional compliments, we are not sharing everything in equal amounts. If one partner is working full time it is likely that the other will be the primary carer who has a far more intimate knowledge of the various therapy session that are undergone each week. They will have larger amounts of one on one time with the child that allows them a more rounded insight into day to day actions and developments.
When there is quiet time for the two of you to sit down (we can dream) you may share the experiences of when one or the other of you has not been present and this connection, this holistic analysis and sharing is invaluable and provides the base for setting objectives for family and individuals and a pillar to further growth of your child and you as a family. This for me this was the essence of doing Now and Next as a couple.
We learned many other things together including how to set short and long term goals and an understanding of the relationship between one leading to the other. We created a process for setting goals for the family both short and long term and made decisions together on the best way ahead. We achieved goals together that we had set together
Finally, I got to hear my wife voice to other people our journey to date and to express it myself finding synchronicity or juxtaposition between our views. Later we could discuss our differences and learnings from the session and find a shared constant that we could proceed with together as a couple, together as a family.