Telling YOUR Story
The New NormalThe New Normal: Blogging Disability

Telling YOUR Story

Journaling offers parents raising kids with disabilities a way to reflect and capture their experiences

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion which fosters inclusion of people with disabilities through the Philadelphia Jewish community. She loves writing/editing for “The New Normal” and for WHYY’s newsworks. Her latest book The Little Gate Crasher is a memoir of her Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, a self-made millionaire and celebrity selfie-artist who was 43 inches tall and was chosen for this year’s Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month Book Selections. She’s recently shared an ELI Talk on Standing With Families Raising Kids With Disabilities and has released a journal designed for special needs parents.

The author and her son. Courtesy of Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer
The author and her son. Courtesy of Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

If you are raising a child who needs any kind of extra supports at home, requires ongoing medical attention, and/or has a learning and/or behavior plan at school, you are a busy parent, carrying the extra demands that are part of life when your child has a disability.

If this describes your parenting life, how do you take time and space to reflect on and process your experiences? To step back and make meaning out of the challenges—and the blessings—in your life?

What I’ve realized: no one is going to give us permission to reflect—we need to claim that time.

When my son was two and a half, he was diagnosed with autism and later, with intellectual disabilities as well. The first year after his diagnosis was a blur of appointments and evaluations; I was focused on surviving and allowed myself few moments to really feel my emotions. But as a writer, I began to find my way back to the page, scribbling in a notebook that I kept in my purse when I had a few moments here or there to capture my frustrations and hopes, my gratitude and sadness. Having a place to write about my parenting journey over the last eleven years has been lifesaving—and I know has allowed me to be a more mindful mom.

Writing has always helped me to gain clarity, work through my emotions and release in a different way from talking. Several years after my son’s diagnosis, I started blogging about my parenting experiences and was able to share my struggles, hopes and hard-earned wisdom with friends, family, fellow parents and readers I’d never met. When I started to edit The New Normal: Blogging Disability, I discovered many parents who similarly gain strength through writing about their stories–and sharing them with the world.

For some parents, writing is more about the process of reflection than creating a finished product. For these parents, journaling is an ideal way to go—it’s about creating a space where you can write when you’re hopeful or scared, when you’re feeling motivated or discouraged. Every parent goes through all of these feelings—but when your child needs extra supports, your journey demands more of you. Journaling is a way to create space that is yours, where you can express whatever you are feeling, free of any judgement.

Last spring, I created a journal for parents that is the kind of book that I wish I had been able to find during my son’s early diagnosis. This journal is filled with prompts about your blessings, hopes, fears and challenges.

Reflection, Expression, Courage: A Journal For Parents On The Special Needs Journey

Whether you write daily, weekly or whenever you make time, parents can open the journal to the prompt that interests you at that time. In this journal, you get to tell your own story. This is a place where you don’t need to respond to anyone’s projections or visions. You have so many stories to share with the world about what you learn from parenting your child every day—and you begin by telling those stories to yourself. What you pour into this journal may just be for your eyes—or it may be something that you share with a partner, best friend, fellow parent.

Check it out—and I’d love to learn more about your stories!

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