What happens when you put girls and their moms together! Lots of laughter and fun. That is what we are learning in Magical Shoes project. Our mission to begin working with the girls and their mothers to affirm them on many different levels in their lives together. Including their understanding of the girls disAbility. The latest group worked on the birthing process. Mothers remembering the birth of their daughters and sharing stories with them about this process, was not easy but they tried this with a dynamic using a baby doll to help them remember the love and the fears that they experienced. The support of the other mothers and daughters was really important as they entered in to this dynamic. In this particular affirmation group, the mothers also experienced how it felt to rely on their daughter with a disAbility as they did a faith walk blindfolded with their daughters with disAbility leading them around in the center where they were meeting. So who is it that has the disAbility? Maybe no one?
What is really important is that the mothers and the daughters walk in each other’s shoes, sharing the experience with others and being open to learn from these affirmations. This is different because neither group becomes the experts. We have experienced a growing sense of equality happening in the groups a chance to learn and to grow together changes the dynamic of mother daughter.
“I never realized that I had never had a conversation with my daughter,” one mother shared. She said that she just worked to make sure her daughter was safe and never stopped to think that her daughter had her own opinions and was her own person. So imagine how some of the daughters have felt. Mostly the mother was trying to deal with the dis Ability and forgetting about the person with this disAbility. That is a very big issue and sometimes the only way for mothers and daughters to change and to begin to recognize reality is to find a way to laugh and have fun with each other. Their lives are so filled with serious issues that they never had the time to just be with their daughters and to play. We at FE are learning from these mothers and daughters how to affirm and how to enjoy life with them.
We are grateful to the Girl Fund for this opportunity to walk with mothers whether it is with plain sight or hindsight or with blindfolds. We are grateful for all the women who have supported this program and continue to help us to continue this journey together and not leaving anyone behind because of fear or disAbility or lack of information. This is a journey which we all need to take together. In almost all of the session of the affirmation groups the mothers have a good laugh with their daughters and begin to appreciate the gift they are to one another.
This weekend we were celebrating with a group of women some of whom have participated in Magical Shoes and some who have not and we had a gift exchange. Sara and her daughter Clara came together to the celebration. This was a little bit different. Normally Sara just comes to the celebrations and says Clara could not attend. We have always encouraged her to come with Clara. Everyone always asks “how is Clara?” Clara is 30 some years old but has been overprotected by her mother who loves her dearly. Clara has several severe disAbilties and rarely participates in groups because she cannot talk. Both Sara and Clara have been attending the Magic Shoe affirmation groups. For the gift exchange everyone was supposed to just go and pick one of the gifts. Clara immediately got up and picked a huge gift and then sat down with a big smile. This called the attention of everyone because usually Clara waits and lets her mother select a gift and give it to her. Everyone was curious what was happening with Clara? Clara hugged her gift which was a stuffed reindeer, saying in a voice we have never heard before “mine.” All of us began laughing with Clara, in joy, as she continued to hug the deer and say clearly, “mine.” Meanwhile Sara just sat down with a big smile, she allowed Clara to have her moment and to have her big deer. It was a very deer moment for all the rest because we saw the growth which others would have not noticed. Clara was allowed to participate and enjoy the gift exchange. Later Sara said. “Well I just realized that Clara is her own person and it made me happy that she could just choose her own gift and enjoy that deer and I did not have to control her.” Wow, the first steps of letting go of a deep over protection, both mother and daughter left the party happy and all of us left happy thinking about Clara with her big deer and her first words and steps to learning that she is separate from her mother but supported by her mother. Over protection is a major issue for the mothers in the affirmation groups and through the affirmations of other mothers Sara saw her daughter also as separate from her yet still in relationship with her. What makes this so important is that without Magical Shoes we would have never heard Clara talk or seen her choose her own gift. We would not have seen how Sara’s growth affected her daughter’s growth.
Little things mean big steps to mothers and daughters in the Magic Shoes project at Special Families. Our desire is for mothers and daughters to walk in the shoes of each other and to grow in their relationships.
What is amazing is that all the mothers can identify in others overprotection but if asked if they are overprotective they say no. Sara did not have to answer that question she had to live it.
And she could only live it by having received affirmation from others. Clara would have been very uncomfortable if we would have pushed her to go and pick her own gift but because she is growing form her mom’s own letting go she just automatically went for the big deer and never wanted to let go because it was her gift. Not her mothers.
Why is this so important? because they walked in each other’s shoes and left feeling happy and other mothers saw that difference. Hopefully it will continue as a lesson to each of us that we can be supported by others but not have to be controlled by them.
This gift exchange was part of gg’s gift to our group of mothers, because in a community everyone is gifted when they see each other grow. Being a part of The Girl Fund has brought us to consciousness. We created the program Magical Shoes just for the GlobalGiving campaign. The fact that there was a campaign for girls made us think and observe our mostly all female programs. We are aware that the girl with a disAbility is probably at the bottom of every totem pole, but we had never created a program just for girls. That awareness gave us courage to do a program like Magical Shoes and to keep it going this year. It is now a permanent part of Special Families programs and we have many mothers who want to be part of this group. The project which is run by mothers to create affirmation groups has taught many about affirmation and the difference between affirmation groups and self-help groups. Most of our mothers would not attend a self-help group because of the name. They just don’t feel that they can help themselves. But when asked to be a part of an affirmation group they are willing to work to affirm other mothers and other girls. Really how many of us really know how to affirm others much less ourselves? If it were not for gg we would not have thought to create Magical Shoes or affirmation groups. The mothers and daughters love the name of the program and are motivated to be a part of it. We talk about it breaking the cycles of violence, because most of our mothers have lived through a lot of abuse and they don’t want their daughters to live through this abuse. However, most of the mothers have hidden their abuse instead of dealing with it. They want to protect their daughters especially those with a handicap. This really is normal but what they do not understand at times is that they are overprotecting which can border on abuse and just continues the cycle. What we are hoping for is that through mutual affirmation women can begin to deal with their past abuse and begin to create relationships with their daughters instead of overprotecting because of fear. We also have the situation where some mothers neglect their daughters with a disAbility out of fear as well and because they feel overwhelmed by the disAbility. We have great hopes that with more information and affirmation mothers can walk in their daughter’s shoes and their daughters can walk in their mother’s shoes. There are girls who blame their mothers for their disAbilities and this creates more violence. These issues are very complex but at least we are starting to deal with them. There is also a societal level. A lack of acceptance and inclusion of people with disAbilities and of women. So do the mothers pass on their suffering or do they find a way to guide their daughters in new directions so that their daughters can have a voice like Clara who never spoke before making her own gift choice. Are we willing to listen to the voices of girls with disAbilites and mothers who have suffered abuse so we can form truly affirming relationships or do we overprotect and block their voices? We want to thank all who have contributed to Magical shoes for giving us an opportunity to even ask this question. As we all enert into the new decade may we be able to ask hard questions and stand together to begin exploring these questions together.
Magical Shoes is based on creating various levels of Affirmation Groups. Affirmation Groups are being used instead of self-help groups. Through our work with mothers and families we realized that most Mothers have hardly ever been affirmed and never learned how to affirm their children. The women who are working in Magical Shoes are themselves mothers with children with a handicap. It is a part of our Mother To Mother Program. They realized early on that they did not even have a vocabulary which was affirming. It is a whole new way to work with others. Mostly they are used to giving information and advice. Now they are in a position where they need to find ways to affirm not advise. Information will be shared and eventually they will have presenters who will give more specific information to the mothers and their daughters on various topics.
The focus is on relationships and affirming. The pilot program is working with five pairs of mothers and daughters. After an initial dynamic they separate and the mothers stay with the mother promotors to work more deeply on the reason for the dynamic. The girls are at the same time working with a psychologist who is helping the girls to understand their own situation and their disABILITY.
When the mothers and daughters come into the program they take off their shoes in symbolic manner of taking off their old habits. They put on socks which are softer and which all the mothers and daughters are putting on the same kind of socks. An example of the dynamic used in the first part of the meeting is the faith walk where the mothers and the daughters walk in pairs with one of them blindfolded and the other leads, then they trade places. The whole group then reflects on how they felt doing this dynamic.
How do we affirm each other? Our mother promoters are learning more and more about affirmations. Outside of the group sessions each mother promoter is visiting the mothers individually getting to know them and listening to them more deeply. The whole Social Unit is learning more about affirming one and another because we are all excited to work in this program. It is truly a mother to mother project, as well as a daughter to daughter program.
Magical shoes is working to affirm mothers with daughters and daughter with mothers. The work consists of working together in affirmation groups of mothers and in affirmation groups of daughters and then bringing them together to celebrate and learn together with the other mothers and daughters. The program uses a lot of dynamics. Our psychologist is leading this program because right now in these families we are working with all young girls who are older than 13. At the same time one of our social promoters is working with the mothers directly in the neighborhoods. She is finding ways to affirm the mothers. The aim is to help them to affirm one another, by walking in each other’s shoes. This is where it becomes difficult because many of the mothers are struggling with their daughters as they are recalling the problems that they had at this age. Staff are coordinating this work together to share the information across the line so that each girl will be able to hear the affirmation of their mother without reacting to their mother’s fears. Their mothers need to face their own fears as they think about their daughter growing up in a world which was not so easy for them, especially because their daughters have to face that world with a disAbility which the Mothers do not understand. So the first subject is learning more about their daughter’s disAbility, and understanding.
The first task is to help the girls understand their own disAbility without blaming their disAbility on their moms. And their moms have to forgive themselves and not blame themselves for their daughter’s disAbility. In all of this we are counting on the collective wisdom of the two groups before we bring them together again as a total group. We are grateful for the help we have gotten through Global Giving in order to attempt this project at a pace which fits the mothers and daughters and not at an accelerated pace which only skims the surface. We are also integrating the work we are already doing with these families in special education, therapy, and prevention of violence and in the mother to mother program. We are learning that it is not easy to do this work in a vacuum but that we need to give these daughter-mom groups special attention because there is a strong nerve of fear. And we want to be sensitive to their fear by giving them facts about their disAbilities and what is known about those disAbilities, because knowledge dispels fear. We are doing a survey on their understanding of their disAbilities and their acceptance of these disAbilities with both the mothers and the daughters to create a baseline. For all of us in FE the mother daughter relationship is very important and is often ignored in the work for people with a handicap, so we want to face this together and make changes.
As we start the magic shoes program each mother and daughter is asked to take off their shoes. Then hold them up and switch the feet putting their shoes back on but on the “wrong foot”. Then the music starts and the mothers and daughters are asked to dance but wearing shoes on the “wrong foot”. As everyone laughs and dances and when the last pair falls they take a refection break. Finally someone spontaneously says, "Here let me help you put your shoes on the right foot." and the music and dance start again.
What did they learn? What is the correct foot and what is the wrong foot in relationship to each other. By having their shoes on the wrong foot some of the mothers said they realized how a person with a handicap might feel a little bit odd at times. Many said well I just could not dance and all laughed at each other as they attempted to dance. Shoes and how we wear them are a common denominator among all the mothers and daughters and really among women. There is a phrase: show me the shoes you wear and I can tell you what you are planning on doing. They now talk about how they can begin to identify when someone is wearing their shoes on the “wrong foot”.
There are many shoe dynamics that our Affirmation Groups are going to use. But this first dynamic gets right to the foot of the problem we all have different stances and really we might be using the wrong foot or the correct foot wrong, in our relationships and the only way to know is to reflect on their stance and their relationships. This is symbolized by the dancing, and reflection.
In the social unit we created the idea of Affirmation Groups. This is not self help groups they are groups where each person affirms the other in a way that helps them gain confidence and begin to see their own lives more positively. Any shoulds are left outside the room, we are not telling each other what we should or should not do. We are listening and identifying positive virtues, values and actions. Part of an Affirmation Group includes naming the positive virtues that each mother or daughter exhibits in their lives. Each person shares. We use dynamics with sticky notes or labels so that the mothers and daughters always walk away with some type of object with the virtues pasted on them so they can have them in their homes and continue the affirmation at home with their families and just for themselves to remember the positive affirmations identified for them by others.
The social team that works in this area has to do a values clarification first, because we discovered that most people’s vocabulary does not include many positive affirmations. We have to build a vocabulary of positive words, virtues, values together. The staff have been amazed how small the positive vocabulary is in comparison with the negative and preaching vocabulary and how difficult it is to change to an affirmation vocabulary. Starting these sessions slowly without pressure because Magic Shoes is planned as a permanent part of Familias Especiales. It is really an adventure in learning and living a more positive affirmed life, not only for the mothers and daughter but for staff. It is changing cycles of violence into cycles of affirmation and growth.
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