By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC www.CreativeExpressionsConsulting.com
Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults
One of my favorite children books, A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker, is a story about a bear who shuns visitors. It wasn't until a cheery mouse who attempts to invite himself over multiple times when the bear relents and lets him stay for a cup of tea. The bear soon discovers that he not only enjoys company, but also prefers it over being alone. This book encourages us to break down our emotional walls and be open to new experiences as they may have a positive impact on our lives. Today we will use this lens as we explore what it means to become a parent.
Most parents reading this would agree that life before parenthood looked very different, as we were only responsible for ourselves. Before parenthood, working was my top priority. I was a full-time therapist in an inpatient hospital and I also worked with a music therapist, facilitating groups for individuals with developmental disabilities. In my free time, I took up kick boxing and buried myself in art projects, naturally. On special occasions, my friends and I would head to a concert, or enjoy dinner and a movie and on those hot summer days, we’d head straight to the beach. When I met my husband, we travelled around New England together and took trips to New York City to see friends. Some of the most enjoyable evenings were in the kitchen cooking, taking turns being each others sous-chef. Life was unrestricted and carefree until six years later when a visitor came to our house. Our first son was born.
Before becoming parents, we all have ideas on how parenthood could or should be. Some feel worried or ambivalent, while others feel excited about starting a family. We will never truly know how things will be until we embark on that journey. When I brought my son home, I remember laying him on my bed thinking, “How am I going to do this? Am I responsible enough for this human being?” I cried and then called my best friend for support. I needed reassurance that bringing a baby home from the hospital for the first time was as terrifying as I had imagined.
Life changed as we knew it. I was no longer heading to work each morning, and my kickboxing classes were removed from my list of priorities. Going to concerts quickly became a thing of the past and the thought of spontaneous road trips were laughable. I nearly forgot the feeling of cooking with my husband as well as the aroma that once filled our kitchen after concocting an elaborate meal. This visitor immediately changed my life.
For first time parents, it is natural to miss our lives before children. But at some point, something magical happens; our mind begins to shift as our heart expands with love for this new presence in our world. It was not long until I put my whole self into being a parent. With this newfound love, I invited two more visitors into my house, my daughter and second son. While I thought my life was full of excitement before parenthood, I was in for an awakening. My oldest son is gifted athletically and has a passion for history so much so, he can recall dates and places of events; a skill I admire. He can spend the entire day at a museum, and joining him is a lesson on being present in the moment and truly appreciating iconic works of art. My daughter has taught me patience and it astonishes me to this day that I have rarely seen her angry. It is that easy-going mindset that has taught me to slow down, take things as they come, and know that becoming emotionally charged won’t always solve a problem. My youngest is very comfortable in his own skin and can easily hold conversations with anyone he meets. His level of social ability inspires me to emulate this skill. Much like the bear in the story, I did not think that having children would enrich my life in the unique ways it did.
As a parent, it is my goal to both teach my children and learn from them. While I may have more lived experience than my children, I see them as individuals with their own thoughts and feelings. Through that, I learn how to better myself by expanding my comfort zone and challenge my own behavioral patterns.
At one point in A Visitor for Bear, the mouse got up to leave after spending a long afternoon with the bear by the fire and telling jokes over a cup of tea. The bear who originally wanted no visitors pleaded with the mouse to stay. When my eldest son headed to college, it was a bittersweet moment for me. It has been so long since this visitor first entered my home that it was hard to see him go. I missed the sound of ping pong coming from the basement, the melodic tunes on our piano, and the extra help walking the dogs at night. I long for the summer days when he visits again, so I can engage in deep conversations over lunch after a morning kayak on the lake.
Having kids is like taking a book out of the library; it is borrowed time. Kids are not ours to keep, we are only stewards for them. Our hearts, however, will forever live outside of ourselves within them.
I think back to those early days and feel grateful for saying yes to parenthood. My life changed in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
Activity: Saying Yes for a Day
Humans are prone to being risk averse and often say “no” due to fear of the unknown. Saying no is an attempt to control the outcome of a situation in order to ensure our safety. The following activity is an opportunity to change our response and observe the outcome. Saying “yes” is gaining popularity in parenting and in positive psychology. In parenting, saying yes to your children will allow them to learn by trial and error, gain skills and build confidence. Rather than demanding that we help them, it may give them the autonomy to ask for our help, giving us the opportunity to offer teachable moments throughout the day. As a result, we may find ourselves in a better mood as there will be less power struggles.
When it comes to personal development, saying "yes" for a day gives us the opportunity to focus on the positive, offering us moments of joy. By saying yes, we can naturally adopt a growth mindset that supports curiosity and creativity. This activity allows us to face our fear of the unknown, giving way to new challenges and opportunities. Overall, we may learn that saying yes makes life more fun. So what do you say we give it a try... yes?
General Rule: You must say yes to anything that is asked of you to do unless it is illegal, would cause you or someone else any form of harm, or is against your morals.
At the end of the day after completing this activity, take out your journal and consider the following:
What have you observed about yourself or about others during the day?
What did you say yes to that you normally would not?
What did you learn?
Did you overall have a better mood throughout the day?
How will you take what you have learned from this experiment and apply to your life?
The Creative Expressions community is growing and it is always best when we can support each other in our personal development. With that, I encourage you to share your observations in the comments section below.
If you need some more inspiration, watch Shonda Rhimes TED Talk about her year of saying yes to everything.
For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog.
Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here: www.CreativeExpressionsConsulting.com