Monday stressbuster sessions are doing the trick
Every mother with a pre-teen or teenager needs a break. And it’s just as true for the kid, especially when mum is also their carer.
Monday afternoons have become a circuit-breaker for a group of six mothers and their disabled children who meet in Whangārei to have some fun – separate fun – with creative arts therapists Marcia Underwood and Chyna Wilkinson-Gale.
The young people chill out in one room with Chyna exploring music, movement and drama, while their mothers make art with Marcia in a neighbouring room at the Te Ora Hou meeting space in Whangārei.
The dual therapy sessions are run by Mauri Tui Tuia: Creative Therapies New Zealand, which specialises in music, dance and art therapy sessions for whānau.
Executive Director Jan McConnell says the sessions break down isolation and encourage the sharing of wisdom and strengths. “It’s them supporting themselves – the parents’ wisdom supporting the parents’ wisdom,” she says.
Jan says the Te Ora Hou community wharenui is a special place where whānau are nurtured by connecting to Te Ao Māori – the Māori world. “It brings them into the community of all the people who use the space.”
At first, the mothers regarded the sessions as something for their kids and were glad of the door between the therapy rooms so they could keep an eye out. But it wasn’t long before the mothers’ group took on a life of its own.
Lisa Thompson comes with her 18-year-old son Max, who has cerebral palsy. Lisa and Max were referred by IHC Family-Whānau Liaison Jim Callaghan. “One of the aspects of raising a child with significant disabilities is finding a community of peers as your child reaches teenage years. We appreciate Jim and IHC identifying
a need for access to art therapy for rangatahi and coordinating such a fantastic team for us to engage with.”
Lisa is an early childhood teacher working with pre-school tamariki with disabilities or who are medically fragile. “I often support and nurture whānau as they navigate this particular pathway of parenting, but I hadn’t really realised how much I would appreciate sitting in a room with other parents as just the mother of Max – finding my own sense of community I guess.
“Max looks forward to attending, smiles and laughs and contributes to the group dynamic with enthusiasm,” she says.
“As we potter with art materials we can identify with each other’s journey,acknowledging that at times this can feel like a very lonely parenting journey, and making connections feeds our wairua as does the process of creating.
“Most of us have arrived here and we have done 3000 things today, and here we have 45 minutes. I think each person leaves feeling a little lighter and that has got to be a good thing.”
IHC Family Whānau Liaison Jim Callaghan arranged the sessions and secured funding through the Whangarei District Council to pay for 20 sessions – 10 sessions for the young people and 10 sessions for the parents/caregivers. The sessions started in June, and were extended until the end of the year with extra funding from the IHC Whangārei Association and the Four Winds Foundation charitable trust.
Jim says there has been enthusiastic feedback from the parents and smiles from the kids and he has invited himself to some of the sessions – “I have even sung with the kids. It makes my heart sing.”
Chyna says the young people arrive at her sessions ready to have fun, to entertain and be entertained. “What I have seen is the level of excitement rise as they come through the door.”
She says there is a range of needs within the group, including fairly high and complex needs. Initially there was some anxiety from them and their mothers about being in different rooms. That has gone.
“We go with the flow, where the engagement takes us. We are quite excited and extravagant and over the top.”
Chyna says the rangatahi are growing in confidence and there’s a little bit of risk-taking. They are valuing the opportunity to have some independence from their mums and to master some new challenges.
Marcia says the mothers, who initially regarded the sessions as something for their children, have found that art can sneak up on them. “The participants are making art while they are talking.”
She says the mothers are sharing what is going on in their world with people who get it. At the start they struggled with the concept of taking time and space for themselves. “They couldn’t even entertain the idea of it. This is about freedom for these participants whose needs are so tight around the requirements of their child.”
Marcia says her goal is to nourish these mothers who are so dedicated to their children and to take some playfulness into their world. “My hope is that it will move towards connection.”
Caption: Whānau and professionals in the disability community in Northland had an opportunity recently to experience a taste of arts therapy, music therapy and dance movement therapy on offer by Mauri Tui Tuia at Te Ora Hou Community Centre in Tikipunga.