Finding Joy in Families with Extra Challenges
with Liza Blas
It’s no secret that families dealing with ADHD and/or autism have an extra dose of challenges. And all those challenges can create chaos and really weigh you down. In this episode of the Parenting ADHD Podcast, Liza Blas shares how to shift your focus to the positive to discover and celebrate the everyday wins, including creating a family constitution highlighting what’s really important in your family.
Liza Blas is the host of the Very Happy Stories podcast. She brings hope, empowerment, and inspiration to her audience by shining light on complex topics impacting many families today. Liza’s stories are inspired by her own experiences raising two kids, both suffering from conditions like depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD and even Lyme disease. Liza shares her best practices through her Very Happy Stories podcast, speaking engagements and personal coaching, where she serves as a Thrive Guide to parents who are struggling.
Before launching her podcast, Liza was a successful commercial real estate broker specializing in the development of medical facilities including IVF medical centers and build-to-suit properties. Liza graduated from the University of Iowa with a BA in English and Communications in 1997. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two kids.
Thanks for joining me!
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Liza Blas (00:03): I would really try to make my home this sacred space of embracing, all of these gifts, all of these strengths, all of the super powers, because they really do need extra emphasis on their strengths.
Penny Williams (00:23): Welcome to the Parenting ADHD Podcast, where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD, straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author, ADHD-aholic and Mindset Mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your atypical kid. Let's get started.
Penny Williams (00:52): Welcome back to the Parenting ADHD podcast. I'm really excited today to be talking to Liza Blas. And we're going to talk about finding joy in complex families, families who have extra challenges like our own. It's totally possible to make room for joy, to find joy within the chaos. And so I'm really excited to bring those conversations. You all, it will be so, so helpful in your day-to-day lives. Thanks for being here lies. I will you start by introducing yourself to everyone.
Liza Blas (01:23): Absolutely. Penny, thank you so much for having me. I'm so thrilled to be here. I'm Liza Blas and I am the host of the Very Happy Stories podcast. I also serve as a thrive guide to moms who are struggling in raising their kids who may have unique challenges. Now, my background's a little bit different. I'm not a therapist, I'm not an educator. I am a mom. I was a successful commercial real estate broker for over 15 years. And at home though, I have been challenged with raising my kids, my two kids at baseline. They both had severe anxiety and depression. My son has ADHD learning differences. We've had a journey of OCD and eating disorder, so many sensory processing challenges, but really we had learned that at the root of a lot of our problems, both of my kids had been suffering from chronic Lyme disease. And so I had been living this narrative of, you know, all it takes for me to be happy is for my kids to be happy and healthy. And I was unhappy for so long. And so I finally was able to invert that storyline and start working on my own journey of healing and happiness, which has ultimately helped my kids in so many ways. And so now I speak to this through my podcast, very happy stories. And I also serve as a thrive guide to other moms and caregivers who may be with similar circumstances.
Penny Williams (03:01): I love the term thrive guide. It's amazing. It's so amazing. Let's start, I think with the bare basics, let's talk about what we mean when we say joy. What are we talking about in the day-to-day? What do moments of joy look like?
Liza Blas (03:18): That's such a great question. You know, I think back in the day, joy looked like my daughter bringing home a great grade on a project, right? Or joy to some parents or when their kids play soccer and had a goal and, and it was something to celebrate and those are joyful moments, but those aren't the joyful moments that I look for each day. For me, joy is just celebrating all of the everyday wins. And especially when I see my kids embracing their own super powers, that makes me happy. So for instance, my daughter's an artist and just like a simple doodle I'll celebrate that my son is a builder. I mean his creative mind, he's still into Legos and just building things. And when I see a huge mess in his room, that actually makes me smile now because I know he is just living his builder spirit.
Liza Blas (04:26): Those are moments of joy. We actually, I always try to find joy in the everyday moments and we actually play this game. You know, that punch buggy game where you see a Volkswagen beetle and someone says like punch buggy or slug bug, you play that game. And the next thing, you know, half our town drives a Volkswagen buggy. Of course that's not true, but that's kind of, we take that same game and we kind of implement that with joy and it's not like saying slug bug, but it's just, I can acknowledge it authentically even like when or at dinner. And I tell my son no phone at the table. Okay, fine. Thank you. Thank you so much. I will just express deep gratitude of him, not whining or making a scene about it and just adjust going with the flow. I will acknowledge that as a joyful moment. And, and just finding wins like that.
Penny Williams (05:30): Yeah. And what I'm hearing is that it really takes acceptance first, right? We have to accept that our family is different. Our kids are wired differently. They move through the world differently. They might, you know, have different strengths and weaknesses than we have. And that acceptance is freedom. It frees you to then have room for seeing all of these little joyful moments for seeing that small wins can be big wins. Right?
Liza Blas (06:05): Absolutely. I mean the small wins are actually the real wins. Those are the real everyday wins and we should celebrate those and emphasize those, especially when you think about, I think about my son and his ADHD, he has lived so many moments in school of being shamed and it's not even intentional, you know, you know, you have teachers just trying to, to help teach, but there are so many shameful moments. I know that he's come home crying, a lot of stuff he doesn't even tell me about. And so not only do we have to balance that out at home, but almost kind of make up for it and, and let them recognize how special and amazing they really are. And so, yes, it is accepting that they're wired differently, but acknowledging their super powers, there are so many amazing gifts that I know my son has.
Liza Blas (07:09): He just thinks differently. And sometimes he asks questions that just the question alone makes me smile and realize that he there's amazing thoughts being processed in his mind and just acknowledging his questions that they are extraordinary is special. That's a joyful moment right there. So yeah, I think the first step is accepting that they are wired differently and then really leaning into those celebrations. I think that that does facilitate the joy cycle and also being on the lookout for it. It's like trying to find that that Volkswagen buggy and the next thing, you know, there are so many of them out there and there are so many joyful moments that we just have to seek them and be on the lookout for them. And you realize that they're all over the place.
Penny Williams (08:03): Oh yeah. Yeah. We used to, when my kids were little, they're both adults now, sadly, when they were super young and we were somewhat newly diagnosed and we were still trying to find our way with school and all of those things when Luke would have a win or if they both just had a really great week, I would surprise them with pizza and ice cream for dinner, you know, like let's just sit down and have your favorite foods. And they would ask me, you know, why are we having a celebration what's going on? You had a great week or, you know, things are just really awesome right now. You guys had some really awesome moments this week and we wanted to let you know that we saw it and we're celebrating it. And then they were amazed, you know, because there was a lot of negativity kind of still brewing, you know, I was still a little bit stuck in fix it mode at that point, but I was trying to get myself out of it right. With, with really looking for the wins. And it was just amazing. It was amazing for them to have those moments where they were sort of surprised that we noticed and that we were going to celebrate.
Liza Blas (09:20): I love that. Yeah. And show gratitude too. Right. I mean, because you want to experience more of those great wins. And so by honoring them and celebrating them and showing gratitude, it's positive reinforcement.
Penny Williams (09:36): Yeah. But it's also helping them to work that gratitude muscle to build that muscle, to also look in the hard times for the things that are good for the things that they can be thankful for. You know, we have to model that we have to teach that if we, if we're really stuck in all of the negativity, you know, for a long time I lived in this place where all I talked about at home or in probably anywhere else was the ADHD. You know, I was always talking to the kids about it. I would talk to my son about it because he was the one with the diagnosis. I was talking to my daughter because she was trying to deal with what was going on in the family. My husband would walk in the door from work and immediately I would start talking about what I learned that day in my obsession or this other family I had heard about. And everybody in the house started avoiding me. That was so negative all the time. And it was so hard. And I had to really make a conscious effort that I was going to shift from that place of everything's hard and I need to fix it too. This is our reality. And how do we make the best of it? And it was monumental. It was a monumental shift.
Liza Blas (10:52): It is it. I have seen that monumental shift as well. I've experienced that. The fix it mode is really when you're operating from fear, right. That's why you want to fix it. And I think it's supernatural and all moms do that. And I actually referenced it to closing the gap. And there was like so many years where I was like, okay, you need some reading help. We're going to do ocular therapy to get your comprehension up. We're going to do some neurofeedback to help your attention. And I was throwing everything at it because I was too in fix it mode. And what that had done to my son year after a year, is it just kind of reinforced this notion of baby you're broken and mommy's just going to help fix you because you're broken. And I didn't say those words, but that's kind of like what I transmitted to him.
Liza Blas (11:50): That was the vibe I was giving him a week. We're going to everything at this and fix you. And when I did make that monumental shift to love everything that I'm going to operate from now is really going to come from a place of love and healing. The whole game changed. And that is where in order to do that, that's where celebrating the wins and finding joy and expressing gratitude for all their positive behavior and positive questions really comes into play as kind of like the recipe to get how to fix it mode. Right. And really just embrace all their superpowers and all the things that make them so special.
Penny Williams (12:32): Yeah. And again, it all starts with that acceptance. And with that acceptance, you're automatically making room for joy because when you accept, then you start to transition out of that, fix it mode. I, when you're not kind of desperate and obsessed with fixing things and making things better every moment now, suddenly you have time, you have room for it. You have room to even recognize it
Liza Blas (12:56): A hundred percent. And I think acceptance in my world too, has been like 90% of the battle. It is like the hardest part. And then once you get to the acceptance milestone, I feel like you just start building momentum for joy and happiness and peace and calm and all that good stuff. But for whatever reason, getting to acceptance is such a battle.
Penny Williams (13:25): It's a, it's a process, it's a process. It's a real process. And it takes a lot of time. And I would say, even when you think you've reached to acceptance, you haven't fully yet. You know, it, it's hard to let go of a lot of things. It's hard to accept something that's painful. You know, it's hard to accept that our kids might have a little more struggle all of their lives. You know, they they're going to be different than neuro-typical expectations. And we can't change that. I remember in third grade, my son finally got an IEP and some services at school to help him, even though he had been diagnosed with ADHD two years before and in the meeting, his classroom teacher kept pushing against, you know, all of the accommodations and things that I was asking for. And she finally said to me, you just need to accept that your son is going to have struggle all his life.
Penny Williams (14:29): And I was not there. I was so not there. I ended up running out of the room, balling. I just was not ready to hear that I was not at that place. And, you know, I was so angry with her and I was so hurt by the fact that she would dare say such a thing, you know? And, and I really held on to bitterness about that for a long time. And then finally, you know, through this process, I realized she was actually right. She was actually trying to help me. She had a son with some challenges herself and she was really just trying to help me, you know, get to a point in the process that I just wasn't out yet. You know? And it was so hurtful because I wasn't able to really, I guess see what her intention behind her words was.
Penny Williams (15:20): And you know, that speaks so much to what we're talking about is that it, it is a process and you can't say, okay, I decide that I'm not in fix-it mode anymore. I'm fully accepting. I'm going to be so positive. I'm going to see all these great wins and celebrate them and it'd be so right. It's just such a process to get there. And I talked so much about that because parents get so upset with themselves. And so frustrated because they're not able to make that shift as easily as they think they should be able to. You know, it took me years, years to fully shift my perspective and my mindset like that.
Liza Blas (15:59): Me too. Yeah. Yeah. Acceptance has it, is it, for me, it was a healing journey for me to get to acceptance with my son and my daughter. And when we finally got to Lyme disease, it was a journey that I had to take that was really focused on healing. It was. So we'll finally got me to acceptance, was working through my own emotional issues and traumas and healing, those, those anxieties that I had had in my own life. And when I was able to work on myself, I know that sounds so, it's so interesting. But with me, working on myself and getting to acceptance just as you have talked about, that was the pivotal moment in helping my son and my daughter in a more loving and a better way that wasn't in fix it, but it did it, it was a journey for me. And it was specifically a journey of healing myself.
Penny Williams (17:04): Yeah. We bring so much of our own anxiety and things that happened to us in our childhood, you know, our own painful moments in our lives. We are so wrapped up in trying to prevent that pain for our kids. And, you know, when we really start to think about it and look at it as a healing journey, we realize that so much of that stuff is our own. It's not their stuff. It's only their stuff because we made it their stuff, right. We put it on them through the best of intentions, love and compassion and wanting to prevent pain. But, you know, we end up sometimes creating difficult moments by doing that. So when we can get to that place of feeling better ourselves about our own fears and what we've gone through, and again, accepting the differences, it really does shift things in a huge way.
Liza Blas (18:01): And I'd actually just want to add to that. That's such an important thing to talk about, of how we really work to prevent pain upon our children. Again, it's, it's a natural thing to do. It comes from a place of fear and in my journey of healing myself, I learned that when I step into my most empowered place to be, that's really where I can help my kids, because then I don't prevent the pain. When we prevent painful moments for our kids, we actually Rob them of the experience of life, right. And they really need to feel the joy, the pain, the frustration, all of the challenges, that's what they need in life to excel. And I had been doing that. I had been robbing them and taking these experiences away from them. What I thought was from a place of love, but really was from a place of fear.
Liza Blas (19:00): And so when I was able to accept the situation and heal myself, I felt so much more empowered. And that is what I needed to transmit to my kids too. And I got to a place penny of really knowing deep in my heart, they're going to be okay. They really are. They have challenges, physical challenges, emotional challenges, but at the end of the day, they're going to be just fine. And I really started believing that. And then when I started interacting with my kids, they started believing it too. And that's what we need to raise them with that sense of empowerment and that things aren't going to go our way, people are going to disappoint us. We're going to fail, but that's how we learn. And really kind of like shifting that whole mindset. That's one of the best things we can do for our kids is like them figure out the struggle and let them figure out the pain while they're still living with us. We can coach them. It's one of the biggest gifts we can give them is like, I love you so much. I know you're going to be okay. I'm going to let you figure this out. I'm going to watch you from the sidelines. I'm going to coach you from the sidelines, but you're going to figure this out in your going to be just fine.
Penny Williams (20:21): Yeah. What we feel like we're doing as protection is actually really keeping them stuck in childhood and in a mode where they need us, where we're the one that they need to cope with something to get through something, to help them problem solve. You know, we're, we're, we want to raise individual independent kids. Right. And, and that takes building that takes learning to problem solve. You know, it takes having to work through pain and learning your own coping strategies. And when we lovingly protect them where we're keeping them from being able to do all of those things, and it's a lesson I've learned the hard way I certainly did for my kids, way, way longer than I should have. And when I finally had that realization that, Oh my gosh, my kid's a teenager and still not independent, still saying, Hey mom, can I have a sandwich?
Penny Williams (21:24): Do you want to make me a sandwich? When they're 14, that's not what we want. And when I had that clarity, I was like, wow, in the intention of being loving and helpful, I actually robbed them of becoming independent. And so we had to kind of double time at that point and really work on a lot of those skills, but, and even little kids, even little kids we can support in starting to become independent in this way. You know, we can help them through, instead of preventing what we might see as something negative. It really is when they work through a struggle successfully, that's a positive, it's not a negative thing. It's a positive thing.
Liza Blas (22:18): Those are the things that we need to come back and celebrate and really helped them flip that mindset. I mean, I could tell you a story, even the summer, my son's in middle school. And a lot of times he's very impulsive. He speaks impulsively and he has been stumbling in social relationships and friendships with other peers, really been struggling for the last three years. I would say because as his peers have been maturing at a more typical rate, you know, my son at, which is very common with kids that are, you know, ADHD or atypical, the maturity could be not in the same range. And so we've told him time and time again, you can't say things like that. You gotta think before you speak. But of course, he's in seventh grade and doesn't listen to his parents.
Liza Blas (23:19): When I realized was the people that are going to teach him how to be appropriate are his own peers. And that is actually who he's going to listen to. The problem is it's going to be a painful experience. And for a couple of months, I had to just watch from the sidelines of my son being completely abandoned and banished from the social group, it is painful. It is so sad to watch and you really have to be on the sidelines. And he got the message and he was depressed about it for like a really good three to four weeks. And I remember telling myself, I'm not going to social engineer because he needed to learn the lesson. And it was very, very painful, but he did learn to how to put it back together. It took a couple of weeks in a couple months, and I was so proud of him and he got the lesson. He learned how to be a good friend, not from a parental lecture, but from the experience of being completely banished. And now he knows how to be a good friend and he's reminded of how to keep his impulsivity in check when it comes to just rattling things off for attention. And there was no way he was going to learn that from me.
Penny Williams (24:49): Yeah. I mean, we all learn best by doing, I think, more than just hearing an instruction when we experience it, it's imprinted neurologically, and we feel it, physically and it makes a big difference. The more wins we have, the more positively wired our brain gets and the opposite is true as well. Do you want to talk about your family constitution a little bit? I think we can give some structured sort of advice on really being able to find and create joy when you have a complex family.
Liza Blas (25:30): I would love to. Yes. So I had developed a family constitution with my husband because what happened was my son's emotional dysregulation would really get me wound up and I would become clouded in properly parenting him. If you will. Also, what was happening was my own fears. And my own projections would come out and we just had fallen into a place of sending mixed signals to my son when we were parenting him. And we were being really inconsistent. And that is, that just lends itself to chaos, right? And so we put together the family constitution of basically, what are our morals and principles? What, what are we looking to do with our children? How do we want to raise them? Who do we want to help them become? And so at the end of the day, our family constitution is really streamlined to be kind and be safe and be respectful.
Liza Blas (26:41): And that goes to both of my kids in everything that you do be kind, be safe and be respectful. And the safe part was really also geared towards him being a middle school boy and making sure he, you know, is safe. So now a days, whenever he does something, I try to go through the family constitution and then celebrate the wins. So I'll give you an example. My son really wanted to buy a skateboard and I had told him he needed to earn it. You know, the old fashioned way. And so he went around our neighborhood and started knocking on doors and he hit 20 neighbors and was doing odd jobs. In one day, he watered plants. He picked up weeds, he collected garbage. And I was really embarrassed about this penny. This is before the family constitution. And I really kind of went off on him that it's very intrusive and there's no solicitation signs all over, but at the heart of the matter, what I really should have done was celebrated his ingenuity and his hustle.
Liza Blas (27:55): And at the end of the day, was he kind? Yes, he was kind. Was he safe? He was safe. This was our neighborhood. We know these people was he respectful. I got text messages from some of my neighbors that he was very respectful. And so when he came home, my instinct was to kind of shame him. And why didn't you tell me first that you were doing this and I need to clear this. I really should have celebrated the win and now I can do that properly because I have the family constitution in place. So it's a way to kind of decipher what is my problem and give you the platform to celebrate the win.
Penny Williams (28:39): It really is your barometer for what's important.
Liza Blas (28:45): Exactly. It's just a clear guide. It's a little roadmap. And now that we have it in place, I can celebrate the win so much easier.
Liza Blas (28:54): When my son makes a huge mess in his playroom, he still has a play room and he's constantly building things in his own space. Normally I would be like, Oh my gosh, please clean this up. You are giving me such stress. I don't do that anymore because is he being kind, yeah, he's not being unkind. Is he being safe? Yes, he is. He's not on the internet, interacting with people, he's building his safe space. Is he being respectful? I mean, he is, he's being respectful. So now I don't hit any shame buttons. I just go right for the celebration and the gratitude of like, you know, thank you so much for being so creative. I love everything that you do in this space and it it's just a healthier mindset.
Penny Williams (29:44): Absolutely. Yeah. And you're also really supporting his creativity and his adventurous exploration. So many times I think we inadvertently shut that down in our kids. Oh, we have this idea of kind of the straight and narrow traditional path. And when they start to veer off of it, there are beautiful things that can come from that. And they're showing us that they're creative that they think and look at the world differently, but we tend to shut it down because it's, it's veering off of this path that we expect because our culture expects it. And we're really doing them a disservice in that. So I love that, you know, you have this sort of checkpoint for yourself, okay, I'm going to look at these. These are our sort of family boundaries. These are our non-negotiables. And if we're meeting those, then things are okay, it's acceptable. Maybe it's even worth celebrating and really helps to kind of reign that in. Because we tend to go right for, is this sort of the neuro-typical normal, right? And if it's not, we want to change it. Why do we want to change that? We don't question ourselves enough about that. I love that. You've talked about that.
Liza Blas (31:07): Yeah. And I really feel like, especially with my son, he already gets enough of that stuff from his friends or other peers and that's not normal. And so I really try to make my home this sacred space of embracing all of these gifts, all of these strengths, all of the super powers, because they really do need extra emphasis on their strengths. I just think out there with their peers and at school and all the other places they go to that they don't get enough of that.
Penny Williams (31:44): And that's been so much harder over the last year to have home be that sacred space because so many of our kids have now had to do school at home. And school is often so very difficult for them. And they're being asked to do things that maybe they're not ready for and not quite capable of doing in the way they're being asked. And so, you know, for us school was a monumental struggle. It was just so traumatic for 13 years and we just finished it a month ago, not even a month ago. And it just feels, you know, we had to bring all of that struggle into the house. I had to insert myself even more into pushing to do school. And it just really changed the dynamic at home, unfortunately. And I was trying really hard to be mindful of that. I was trying to say, okay, you know, how much are we going to let this cloud our home life?
Penny Williams (32:46): But we were also right at the end where he needed to finish up and be able to graduate. And so we were pushing more than maybe we would have if he was in middle school, even early high school, or definitely more than if he had been an elementary school. But I think, there were going to have to go through this period of reclaiming home as that calm, sacred space because of the pandemic and what we've all been having to bring everything home with us and parents to having to work from home when you didn't use to and having that, maybe work stress coming into the house. So, you know, it's tougher right now, I think, and has been, and we're just going to have to mindfully sort of reclaim.
Liza Blas (33:31): I couldn't agree more even in my family constitution, which I didn't even tweak since the pandemic. I mean, again, my kid's not in high school, so I know there's different parts of your academic career, where there really is going to be a more emphasis on grades, but I didn't even put academics on my family constitution. I just went right to the core of the foundation of who do we want to help you become? And it's someone that's kind and safe and respectful. And I mean, I get it like it's so challenging. I mean, I know we've all become teachers now at home and all kinds of support. It's so stressful. And I literally just take the academic piece for now just kind of off the table, because I'm still trying to support my child and feeling safe in a pandemic. And when things resume to normalcy or a new normal, you know, we'll get back at it. But I literally am still building the foundation of his emotional wellbeing.
Penny Williams (34:38): Exactly. And that has to come first. Our kids' emotional wellbeing has to come before school and grades. It just does. And our focus was on just finish and pass. That's all we're asking. It's just finished and pass because a long time ago we let go of grades. And we know that it's not necessarily a measure of capability or success or intelligence. Here's a kid with a really high IQ who could barely pass his classes. Why? Because he was being asked to do things that just don't fit in who he is. He was being asked to have all of this output and this great executive functioning and all of these things that he just, unfortunately, didn't have those capabilities at that time. And so it was just, okay, we just have to get done. We don't care really what your grades are because we know you're smart. We know you're capable. We just need to sort of strip it back and make sure that we're not ruining the family relationship. We're not clouding life at home completely. And that's what we did.
Liza Blas (35:45): And it's worth celebrating. I mean, that is the win, like coming out of it still from a place of love, loving each other, graduating, but not screaming and being stressed. I mean, that is something to celebrate.
Penny Williams (36:02): Yeah. You really have to let go of that stress about academic pursuit because it's not worth it. It's just not worth it. There are plenty of successful people out there who did terrible in school. So, we just have to really focus on what do we need to guide our kids through to be successful and happy adults and honor roll is not a necessity.
New Speaker (36:28): Well, thank you so much. I have loved this conversation and I hope that parents really take away what you've provided here today. I would love for them to listen to your podcast as well and check out your work and connect with you more. I think it's so beneficial, the perspective that you have and what you're teaching families really is bringing the joy and not worrying so much about the minutia, which I love. Everyone listening, you can get links to Liza's podcast and website and social media in the show notes for the Parenting ADHD podcast. You can find that at parentingadhdandautism.com/115. And I just want to thank you again, Liza, for being here and sharing some of your personal story and the real wisdom that you have learned through your own journey that can help so many other families as well.
Liza Blas (37:31): Thank you so much for having me, Penny. I enjoyed the conversation as well, and I can't wait to hear more of your podcast.
Penny Williams (37:39): Thank you. And I will see everybody on the next episode.
Outro (37:46): Thanks for joining me on the parenting ADHD podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share, and don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and mama retreats at parentingadhdandautism.com.
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