Embracing the Journey: Reflections on Motherhood and a Path of Self-Discovery
By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC, MHC-LP www.CreativeExpressionsConsulting.com
Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults
Motherhood has been a journey of self-discovery, resilience, and unwavering commitment. Through personal challenges, moments of profound joy, and transformative decisions, I have come to appreciate the importance of self-care, the power of Art Therapy, and the fulfillment of guiding my children through their individual paths. As I continue to expand my knowledge and advocate for the well-being of young minds, I am driven by a passion to empower parents and inspire them to embrace the power of creative expression in raising healthy and confident children.
As a mother of two teenagers and one young adult, I find myself in a position of contemplation, reflecting on the profound significance of being their mom. Witnessing my children's growth into independent adults has brought me a sense of fulfillment. I believe that when children are born, they already possess their unique identities, while we, as parents, play a crucial role as supportive guides in their individual development. From a young age, I dreamed of experiencing the joys of marriage and motherhood. When my husband and I decided to start a family, we embraced the journey, undeterred by questions of readiness or timing. Little did we know that our path would be strewn with obstacles, testing our resilience and determination.
Before the blessings of my three beautiful children, I endured two years of heartbreaking miscarriages. It was not a question of fertility but rather the ability to maintain a pregnancy. This emotionally turbulent period coincided with my two sisters-in-law being pregnant, amplifying the sense of loss. While my niece and nephew are treasured in my heart, I often wonder how it would have been if they had grown up with their cousin. Nevertheless, I now realize that those trials paved the way for the birth of my oldest child, born in 2002, less than two years later. The unexpected difficulty of starting a family revealed to me a truth that resonates with many families I have encountered in my work as a therapist: the journey of parenthood is often far from easy.
A Journey of Self-Care:
During this challenging period, I sought solace and guidance in therapy, grateful for the unwavering support of my therapist. The birth of my son presented a new chapter in my life, one filled with both anticipated joys and unforeseen hurdles. While fatigued and disheveled, I found immeasurable delight in the tender moments of breastfeeding and falling asleep with my son nestled against me. Attempting to return to work, I soon realized that to be the kind of mother I aspired to be, I needed to make a difficult decision. As fate would have it, my hospital job came to an end through a layoff. However, I never stopped working; instead, I embarked on a part-time career as an art therapy consultant, serving individuals with developmental disabilities.
Discovering New Passions:
During this transformative period, I contemplated a career change, driven by my desire to be present in my child's life. As an art therapist, my work hours often encroached on evenings and weekends, hindering my ability to fully embrace motherhood. When my son turned 18 months old, I embarked on a journey of education, pursuing a master's degree in teaching. The pursuit of this degree spanned five years, during which I also welcomed my daughter in 2005 and another son in 2006. As my children grew, I realized that working full-time as a teacher wouldn't align with the needs of our family. My daughter's special requirements demanded my presence during in-home therapy sessions for her low muscle tone and speech delays. Despite the option of daycare, my husband's career allowed me the privilege of working part-time while being fully present for our children.
Finding Fulfillment in Art Therapy:
It was during this period that I found a position at my children's preschool, offering the ideal balance of hours and flexibility, enabling me to be the mother I aspired to be. With each decision I made, the guiding principle remained constant: how could the job I chose enhance my ability to be the best mom I could be? As the years passed and my children blossomed into independent individuals, pursuing their own interests and forging their own paths, I embarked on a journey of self-reflection. Recognizing the immense value of therapy in my life, I once again sought its guidance, which led me to a profound realization—I wanted to return to the field of art therapy. To my surprise, I discovered that I had never truly left the realm of art therapy. The preschool environment provided countless opportunities to utilize my art therapy skills, nurturing the creative development of young minds. In 2018, I took a leap of faith and established my own art therapy business, Creative Expressions Consulting, LLC.
Navigating Unforeseen Obstacles:
However, just as everything seemed to be falling into place, the unprecedented events of 2020 unfolded, disrupting life as we knew it. However, amid the challenges, I embarked in another introspective journey, discovering a strong thirst for knowledge and a genuine desire to broaden my professional horizons. For years, the idea of pursuing a Ph.D. had been lingering in my mind, but various life circumstances had prevented me from taking that leap. The silver lining of the COVID pause was that it allowed me to make a truly introspective decision. Thus, in 2020, I returned to school to pursue a master's degree in counseling, which I successfully completed in 2022. During this transformative period, I had conversations with professors and fellow students, exploring the possibility of pursuing a Ph.D. in counseling. As fate would have it, an opportunity came up to teach an undergraduate class, and I jumped at the chance without hesitation. It turned out to be an incredibly fulfilling experience, and I've decided to continue as an adjunct professor for the foreseeable future.
A Passion for Research and Parenting Support:
Through introspection and self-reflection, I discovered a profound love for learning and academia. This passion, combined with my unwavering commitment to promoting the mental health and well-being of young children, led me to focus my research on the role of creativity in nurturing their overall wellness. It has become my lifelong mission to support parents in incorporating creativity into their parenting approach, fostering an environment that nurtures their children's mental health and personal growth.
Recognizing the importance of not letting life pass by without pursuing my passions, I decided to tick off a bucket list item by going back to school for my PhD, fueled by my love for research and analyzing the connections between human behavior and the arts. Despite initial apprehension, I encouraged myself to take the risk, reminding my kids that sometimes the hardest part is simply taking the plunge. Today, at this very moment, I’m open to the upcoming challenges that lie ahead on this exciting journey.
Art Therapy: Past, Present, Future Self-reflection
The self-reflection exercise I'm about to share is a timeline-based activity that encourages looking back, examining the present, and contemplating the future. This exercise offers an opportunity for personal growth, self-discovery, and mindful planning, empowering you to lead a more intentional and fulfilling life. During the process, you may feel increased self-awareness, as you become more in tune with your thoughts, feelings, and motivations. It also provides clarity and perspective, helping to gain valuable insights and see patterns or connections that may not have been apparent before. This broader perspective can provide clarity and help you make more informed decisions.
When reflecting on the past, focus on what has worked and what hasn't, allowing yourself to freely express your thoughts and feelings through writing or drawing. While major life events such as moving, job changes, children, marriage, divorce, and loss are important to include, remember that even seemingly insignificant moments can hold significance if they continue to occupy your thoughts. Looking back at your past experiences and accomplishments helps you recognize patterns of success and areas of growth. It allows you to appreciate your progress and see how far you've come, providing a sense of achievement and motivation to continue moving forward.
The present section of the timeline centers on what you are currently doing. Instead of focusing on aspirations or future plans, consider your present actions and activities. If you find this part challenging, try listing your daily activities for a couple of days to gain a clearer understanding of what you are accomplishing. Bringing your attention to the present moment and encourages you to examine your current actions and activities. This mindfulness helps you become more intentional in how you spend your time and make choices aligned with your values and goals.
For the forward-looking portion, it's essential to not only include dreams but also formulate concrete goals. This section can encompass anticipated life events such as weddings, career aspirations, or travel plans, but it's equally important to acknowledge concerns or worries, such as the health of loved ones, personal well-being, financial issues, or work-related stress. This section encourages you to formulate goals and articulate your dreams. By identifying specific objectives, you can create a roadmap for your future and develop a clearer sense of direction.
Please refer to the example below and utilize the provided template as a helpful guide for this introspective exercise:
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