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What Is the Happy Mama Retreat?

There's a Retreat For Moms of Kids With Disabilities, Because Self-Care Is So Important

What Is the Happy Mama Retreat?

Parenting is hard, but parenting a child with a disability can sometimes feel like the most impossible mountain to climb. When a child has an invisible disability, like autism or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), their very serious meltdowns may look like a bratty child throwing a temper tantrum to others, but what many quick-to-judge people don't know is what's really going on below the surface. That particular child might be overstimulated by the loud music playing in the store or the screeching wheels of the grocery cart, and they simply can't take it anymore. Their emotional regulation skills are lacking, and all they know is that they need to remove themselves from the situation as quickly as possible. That child is not giving their mother a hard time; that child is having a hard time.

Judgmental and disapproving looks from strangers. Unsolicited advice about putting your child on special diets or using essential oils to "cure" their disability. These are things many parents of children with different special needs go through. It can be very frustrating, overwhelming, and exhausting. In those moments, it's so easy to feel like you're alone in this and that nobody else can or will understand what it is you and your family go through. It's also so easy to think that you'll never get a break.

That's why Penny Williams, a mother and parenting ADHD instructor, author, and journalist, created the Happy Mama Retreat, a retreat designed just for moms of children with invisible disabilities. "Early on after my son's ADHD diagnosis, support came in the way of online connections with other moms with a similar parenting journey. We found each other through blogs and Facebook. Three of us kept saying how awesome it would be if a bunch of us could have a weekend together, just moms who understand what it's like to raise a challenging child," Penny told POPSUGAR about how the Happy Mama Retreat came to be. "So we decided to try it, planned a day of speakers, and then put the word out on Facebook. We had 40 moms at the first retreat, and we all left with a renewed energy and a feeling that we're not alone. That was in 2012, and I've been hosting the retreat annually ever since."

At the Happy Mama Retreat, moms experience a well-deserved and much-needed relaxing and rejuvenating weekend away with other mothers just like them. They're able to hear from wonderful speakers about how to better practice self-care and how to fit it into their busy and hectic lives. At the next retreat, which is happening April 12-14 in Montreat, NC, moms will hear from Rose Reif, a licensed counselor, about "Things Moms of Kids with Disabilities Do that Feel Helpful, but Are Actually Robbing Them of Joy and Energy."

Moms can expect to relax and have fun with group activities, like a wine social, painting class, and Pilates. There's also time set aside for moms to relax and recharge by themselves. "When we started this retreat, we though it was about education, being pampered, and relaxing," Penny explained. "But what the moms have shown me over the years is that it's about a sense of belonging and connection β€” its about the community of support. Yes, the respite is great, but it wouldn't be the same experience alone. We are truly stronger together."

The support mothers receive from attending the retreat continues long after it's over. "We have a closed Facebook group just for moms who have attended the retreat," Penny continued. "We're able to speak our truth there and get support without judgment. Many of the repeat mamas who live close geographically get together during the year as well. For those who embrace it, it's a family, a tribe." Keep reading to see photos of some of the past retreat's venues and also check out the venue for the upcoming Happy Mama Retreat in 2019.

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