195 – Susanna Peace-Lovell of Marina del Rey, CA Is An Outspoken Advocate for Families Raising Children With Special Needs
Our guest this week is Susanna Peace-Lovell, a single mother, certified life coach and advocate for the health and wellness of all special needs families. Susanna’s daughter, Arizona, has ADHD, Eczema, severe food allergies, sensory and auditory processing disorders as well as Autism. We’ll hear Susanna’s story, her work as a life coach and her dedication to serve families raising children with special healthcare needs. That’s all on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Email – email@example.com
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/susannapeace/
Website – https://www.susannapeacelovell.com
Cheerful Helpers Child & Family Study Center – https://www.cheerfulhelpers.org
The Children’s Ranch – http://www.thechildrensranch.org
Social Foundations LA – https://www.socialfoundationsla.com
We Are Brave Together – https://www.wearebravetogether.com
Tom Couch: Special thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, working tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics’ mission at horizontherapeutics.com.
Susanna Peace Lovell: The food allergy stuff has been honestly the most challenging, because whenever we visit, I have to have a different set of pots and pans. I mean, it’s so stressful and I’m like, “Don’t cook an egg in that pot! No, we can’t go out to eat.” You know? So it limits our ability to just sort of be adventurous and explore.
Tom Couch: That’s this week’s guest, Susanna Peace Lovell, a mother, a certified life coach, and an advocate for the health and wellness of all special needs families. Susanna is the mother of Arizona, who has ADHD, eczema, severe food allergies, sensory and auditory processing disorders, and she also has autism. We’ll hear Susanna’s story and how she spends her life trying to help people with special needs and their families. That’s all on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello to David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to The Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re dad looking for help, or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: Now let’s listen in on this compelling conversation between Susanna Peace Lovell and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with Susanna Peace Lovell of Marina del Ray, California, a mother, a certified professional life coach, and an advocate dedicated to the health and wellness of special needs families everywhere. Susanna, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Susanna Peace Lovell: Yes, thank you for having me, David. So happy to see you.
David Hirsch: You and your ex-husband were married for ten years, and are the proud parents of a 15-year-old daughter, Arizona, who has autism, ADHD, food allergies, auditory processing dysplasia, and general anxiety disorder. Let’s start with some background. Tell me something about your family.
Susanna Peace Lovell: Yeah, so I was born in the mid seventies in southern California, Santa Monica, California, to be exact. My parents met in the sixties at UCLA. My father was a grad student getting his PhD in math and physics, and my mother was an undergrad getting her degree in humanities, musicology, geography. They just couldn’t be from two more different worlds. But they connected, and they bonded, and they actually just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
So that set the stage in terms of us being here in Los Angeles, and the majority of my siblings and I being born here in California. We just sort of stayed in California most of my childhood, specifically the Orange County area.
And I didn’t leave there until I went up north to attend UC Berkeley for my undergraduate work. And now we are all spread out all over the place. So it’s just me and my older sibling that are still here in California. Everyone else has dispersed.
David Hirsch: Well, if I remember, you were number two of five in birth order.
Susanna Peace Lovell: Yes, I am number two of five. There are four girls and one boy, and it goes girl, girl, girl, boy, girl.
David Hirsch: Okay. And you have a lot of nieces and nephews. And if I remember in a prior conversation, I think you mentioned you were a classically trained pianist.
Susanna Peace Lovell: Yes, that is very true. So my father is from Taiwan, he’s Taiwanese, and as is common in Asian families, we take piano lessons among other things. And so we were all convinced, strongly encouraged to do that, meaning there wasn’t a choice. I don’t want to use the word force.
But I started playing on my own when I was four. Just had this sort of knack to play by ear, and my parents were like, “Hmm, let’s get her started early.” I took lessons my whole childhood up until I left for college. So my childhood was spent playing the piano for competitions and exhibitions and recitals and lots of practice every day after school. Hours and hours.
David Hirsch: Sounds like you had a good work ethic, and there was a lot of discipline involved in that.
Susanna Peace Lovell: I suppose that has somehow served me in this life, but I was not a huge fan at the time. I loved the piano and I loved playing the piano. It’s still a very therapeutic exercise for me. I have a baby grand piano sitting in my living room and I bang on it when I need to, as a cathartic experience. Yeah, the discipline, everything else, the competitions were very, very hard, very stressful, and I had anxiety a lot.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, let’s stop there. So this is not meant to be a therapy session, but thanks for sharing. I’m sort of curious to know, what does your dad do for a living?
Susanna Peace Lovell: So my dad is currently retired now. He is 76. He is the love of my lifetime. He worked for IBM for 38 years. He started off as a systems engineer, and then just sort of worked up the ranks there. And he traveled a lot. His offices were always sort of based wherever we lived.
But for the most part he was home every night for dinner and very involved in our lives, and very, very involved in the church. So there were a lot of activities around the church life that involved family things. He was and is a hero in many ways.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So it sounds like he was present in your and your siblings lives. And I’m sort of curious to know how you describe your relationship with your dad.
Susanna Peace Lovell: If I can just sort of overall state that, it is really probably the most important relationship in my life to another human being. It was not without some challenges and struggles. We butted heads a lot when I was younger, trying to find my own voice and expression, which was not necessarily the way he might have wanted things for me.
That being said, he was also my closest confidant, whenever I had some really big news or big worries or big issues. I have a very close relationship with my mother also, but she’s more sensitive and emotional and can take things a little more personally. And so if I had some big uncomfortable news to share, I would call my dad, or I would sit down with him, and he was able to just sort of digest it, like literally, “Okay, here’s what’s happening. What do we do next?”
Because of that, whenever I had issues like boy problems growing up, I always called my dad, and he gave me some sound advice. He has been my sounding board. He still very much is today as well, about everything.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So were there any important takeaways, lessons you learned, something that you’ve tried to incorporate into your own parenting as a result of the relationship with your dad?
Susanna Peace Lovell: For sure. I will even say some things that I learned how to do differently because of my relationship with my dad. My dad has a very strong idea of how things should be and what is right and good. And I have not raised my child exactly in the same way for a myriad reasons. But I definitely would say that I have allowed my child to be more expressive in ways that I was not really able to be growing up.
But what I did take away from being raised by my father, in terms of what I still implement now in my parenting with my daughter Arizona, is structure and discipline, and showing up, and standing behind my word. Whenever my dad said he was going to do something or be somewhere or help with something, he always was.
And so that sort of consistency was really important for me to feel safe, and to feel taken care of, and feel like I could have a place to fall, if I was ever in a situation where I wasn’t sure of doing the right thing. I felt like I could take a few more risks because I knew my dad was solidly there for me.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. And I’m thinking about the grandfathers. I’m wondering if either of your grandfathers was an influence, first on your dad’s side and then on your mom’s side.
Susanna Peace Lovell: So on my dad’s side, my grandfather who I call A-gong, that’s the Taiwanese way to say grandfather, he passed probably 15 years ago, right before my daughter was born.
He was always in Taiwan. He lived in Taiwan full-time, so he would travel a lot, and he would come to visit. He was also just a solid guy. He definitely softened over the years. He was pretty powerful in the Taiwanese government, and with that power came sort of a big lifestyle. And so there were some ups and downs there earlier on.
But by the time we were born, he was just to me a big, big fat heart. He loved us so much. And there was a lot of discord. There were some issues when my parents got married, so my dad was disowned, not technically, but emotionally. There was all kinds of stuff going on, and it was really spearheaded by my grandmother, who just passed a few years ago at the age of 97, almost 98
But my grandfather had the soft spot in his heart for us. So even though she didn’t want us to be contacted by any of our Taiwanese family, he would find ways still to get us messages. Back in the day, it was like sending a fax somewhere. I remember getting a fax from my grandfather when I graduated from high school, and that was very precious. So I regret not being able to get to know him more. I think the distance was very challenging, but certainly the family dynamic did not help.
And on my mother’s side, my maternal grandfather passed when I was very young, so I have very little recollection of him, other than just knowing he was a big golfer. He loved to play golf, he loved to eat steaks. He was just a Midwest guy.
My mother was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and she was their only child, so he was very protective of his only daughter. I feel like energetically he was very much a caretaker, a provider, and just made sure everything was taken care of, and he enjoyed his life at the same time.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thanks for sharing. Sorry you didn’t have a chance to know your maternal grandfather like you did a little bit with your fraternal grandfather. But I just wanted a question to clarify. Was it the cultural differences that your grandmother on your dad’s side had with an intercultural marriage? Is that what you’re referring to?
Susanna Peace Lovell: Well, yeah. There was a plan in place that was thwarted. So my father was a top student at [?] University in Taiwan, which is like the Harvard of Taiwan, if you can make a comparison. And so top student, my grandparents were like, “Fine, you can go ahead and get your PhD in the United States, but you better come right back. And then we have this beautiful Taiwanese beauty queen from this good family waiting for you. So you guys can get married, fall in love, doesn’t matter which order, and then we’ll just have this happy family life.”
We are very proud Taiwanese nationalistic people. We are also indigenous to the island of Taiwan. So there’s that other piece too, like very, very proud Taiwanese. And I think I mentioned this to you before, my grandfather wrote a little book called I Am a Taiwanese, Not a Chinese. And so for my father, this Taiwanese student to go to the United States and come back and marry the Taiwanese beauty queen—I mean, that’s just how it’s going to be.
And then he met my mom at UCLA. And she is not a Taiwanese beauty queen. She’s a blonde girl from the Midwest, so an American girl. And my dad actually barely even spoke English at the time, because he thought, “I don’t really need to learn it. I need to learn math and physics. I don’t really need English too much. I can just do what I need to do with these numbers and these formulas.”
Then all of a sudden, here comes my mom, and he’s like, “Hold on a second.” And it’s the sixties, right? It was not so common to have interracial relationships, but somehow they met, they fell in love, and it was a real challenge for them. It was almost like a secretive kind of thing.
Interestingly enough though, it was my mother’s white parents who were much more embracing of my brown Asian father in the sixties than the other way around. So anyway, that has been a long history of events for sure.
David Hirsch: Well, I do want to underscore a reference that you’ve made to your parents now having celebrated their 50 year wedding anniversary. That’s a love story for the ages. That is a direct quote of yours.
So my recollection was that you got a BA from Berkeley in political science and legal studies, and you had an eye toward becoming a lawyer, or at least taking the LSAT. And I’m wondering, where is it that your career has taken you subsequently?
Susanna Peace Lovell: So, interestingly enough, when I was at Cal, I was just hell bent on becoming a civil rights attorney. I just wanted to help anybody who didn’t have a voice, anyone who was wronged, anyone who suffered any type of injustice. And so I had this idea that I was going to go to law school, and then never make a dime and be in debt for going to law school. That was my lofty aspiration. I wanted to help anybody who couldn’t help themselves.
So when I studied for the LSAT, I did fine. It was okay. But I was just struck with this idea that I would then need to go to school for another three years. And by the way, I don’t love school. I did okay in school, but I didn’t love it. I’m not highly academic. The rest of my family is very, very academic. I am not, I am much more social. I enjoy to live. I like to travel. I like to be with friends. I like to be in social environments, and that really messed up having to study all the time.
So I get to the point where I’m about to figure out where to apply for law school, when I get recruited by Oracle Corporation up in the Bay Area in Silicon Valley. And it was a really great offering. I still had to be interviewed and get through the process and so on and so forth, but I sort of jumped on it. And at first I was like, let me just try this for a year. We’ll see what happens. I can always go to law school. I mean, I can always apply to law school.
And it turned out that I never applied to law school, but I do find myself now advocating for those who cannot speak up for themselves too. So it’s interesting how life works. So I worked in Silicon Valley for quite some time. I was a sales engineer, general term, became director, all kinds of fun things. I worked for a Swedish engineering software company for a while. I worked for a publishing company outside of Minnesota for a while.
And then at the time I was married. My husband had an agency, a digital agency, which I then quit my job to do business development and operations for them. And then Arizona came along not too long after that, and we had made the decision for me to stay at home, at least in the beginning to raise her. And I always wanted that for myself, because that was my experience growing up.
And I’m glad that we prepared and planned financially and everything else to make that happen, because as it turned out Arizona needed a lot of attention. She commanded a lot of attention as soon as she was born. And I’m so grateful I was able to be there in the very beginning and sort of help drive the process of understanding who this different kind of child was from the beginning and then from there.
David Hirsch: Well let’s use that as a segue to talk about special needs, first on a personal level and then beyond. So what is Arizona’s diagnosis and how did it come about…or how did they come about? Because it’s multiple diagnoses.
Susanna Peace Lovell: Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, you know, it started off with food allergies, and I consider this a very special need. Some people might not, but for me it really was. So it started off as a very allergic profile for Arizona, to the point where she was covered head to toe in eczema. She was very miserable and fussy and crying all the time. I had to do all kinds of tests with her, starting at four months old, to try to understand what was going on and what she was ingesting that her body was rejecting. I was breastfeeding her exclusively at one point, so I was eating only rice and plain meat, like ground turkey or something, like no seasonings.
And I though, “This is miserable.” If you know me, I just enjoy eating. It is one of my greatest pleasures in this life. And so it was such a suffering. But then when we started to realize that she had allergies more than what we could even perceive at the time, we started her on a very specific hypoallergenic formula, and that seemed to help a little bit. But it was still 18 months before all of the eczema left her body.
So for the first 18 months of her life, she cried incessantly all day, every day. She was miserable. She was in so much discomfort. And I can’t tell you how many medical professionals I went to, and gastroenterologists and dermatologists, and everyone was just like, “Oh, she’ll grow out of it.”
In the meantime, people, we are both crying all day, every day. What are we supposed to do here? This is not what I planned for my life. So it was the allergies first, and that sort of turned into asthma. And then at some point she was coming out of the eczema fog and starting to like sort of open up and look around her, because her first 18 months, she really just scratching.
She was very here, and then we just noticed that she didn’t seem to have typical responses that we would have expected her to have. She had words early on, but she wasn’t talking to anybody. She wasn’t communicating, she wasn’t having any sort of back and forth communication. It was literally just her saying words randomly whenever she felt like it, and usually to the wall or some other inanimate object.
The eye contact was not there. If you called her name, she would not respond. She always seemed to be doing her own idea. I initially thought that she was just being stubborn. I was like, “Hello. Pay attention to me.” And I just thought that she was not obedient, that she just was sort of in her own world doing her own idea.
But it was so confusing, because again, she had language. And so anytime I brought this up to the pediatrician, he was like, “Yes, but she has language, she has language, she has language.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but it’s a different kind of language. I can’t communicate with this language, even though it’s English.” So it really took some time to figure this part out.
One of my sisters, who had some young children at that point, called me one day and was like, “You know, Susanna, there’s something different about Arizona, and I’m not sure what it is.” And she was also a teacher. She said, “I’m not sure what it is, but you might get it checked out.” And the second that she said that to me, I just knew, that intuitive sort of gut punch like, “You’re right.” And so then I was like, “Well, what is it? What do you think it is?” She’s like, “Well, I don’t know. It’s just something different.”
And that started this long journey to find out who this child was that was my daughter. And so not too long after that we got a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder, auditory processing disorder, that moved into a formal ASD diagnosis, Autism Spectrum Disorder. A couple of years later when she could officially be tested for ADHD, she was given that diagnosis also. I think we had to wait till she was six or something like that.
And now I would say she suffers from just general anxiety disorder. So lots of fun diagnoses, a lot of little side dishes to what I would consider the big one, which is Autism Spectrum Disorder, or rather, the one that most people can understand and relate to or have heard of. There’s the most support for that. And so yes, here we are. And now I have a teenager. Which blows my mind, because that went by really fast, and so slow at the same time.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well I’ve heard it said that the days are slow, but the years go fast.
Susanna Peace Lovell: Oh, that’s a good one. I am going to adopt that for sure. That’s exactly right.
David Hirsch: So it sounds like it’s been quite a journey. Not to focus on the negative, but beyond what you maybe already mentioned, what’s been the biggest challenge for you?
Susanna Peace Lovell: So the biggest challenge for me in raising Arizona, I would say, is it’s very challenging for me to ask for help. I’m a very capable and resourceful and tenacious person in terms of getting things done. So I’m an amazing task master. But in so being, I am also not very flexible. I can be a little bit rigid in terms of like, “Well, here’s how it should be done, and I know how to implement all of these pieces for my particular child.”
And so I think that was very challenging. Certainly when I was in my marriage, and my former husband is more like, “Let’s just go with the flow, and don’t be so rigid, and chill out.” I mean, people have been telling me to chill out my whole life. But I’m like, “But then, who’s going to get everything done? Hello?”
But I have really evolved in that area. I can totally let loose. Okay. It’s possible. And so there was a lot of conflict in my marriage, because I was like, no, no, no. And remember, I had this underlying fear. I didn’t realize it was fear yet. So I’m operating here with all of my worries and uncertainties.
And then my ex-husband had his worries and uncertainties and his way of handling that was like, “Okay, I’m going to just escape into work. I’m going to escape into golf. I’m going to escape into going to the gym,” and whatever else he could possibly do.
And reflecting back, I totally understand that. If I could have figured out how to escape, I probably would have too. I just didn’t know how to do that. So challenging in that I find that I’m not so flexible. I have a co-parenting relationship with my ex-husband now, which we’ve really had to work on, and for the most part is okay. Challenges definitely arise.
For now, logistically, just because it makes the most sense in terms of my schedule, Arizona lives with me pretty much full-time. She goes to her dad’s, but the day-to-day and certainly the school stuff, that is my responsibility.
And so that’s challenging, and especially now that Arizona is 15, and the hormones are raging, and the sass and some of the other things that come along with that roller-coaster of emotions, it’s hard to not have an every-day person to triangulate with, in terms of situations that come up.
Now, I will quickly dial his number and say, “We’re having a situation.” She’ll be in full-blown panic or meltdown or episode, and he will typically be able to help walk through that. But it’s a little bit different than sort of the day-to-day.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, what you are describing, and it’s not to seek pity or sympathy, is the struggle of being a single mom.
So I’m sort of curious to know what impact Arizona’s situation has had on the rest of your family.
Susanna Peace Lovell: Oh, that’s a good question. You know, my family really, really loves and embraces Arizona for who she is. I will say, though, that they’ve also been really worried about me, because they see how much work it is. And I remember once when I was lamenting to my mom back in the day, I was like, “Mom, I never had my five kids.” And she said, “Oh, honey, having Arizona is like having five.” I was like, “You’re right.”
There have been some issues around cultural differences as you heard, I think, in a podcast that I did with “We Are Brave Together,” the podcast where I was talking about Asian culture and disability. So my dad has had a probably the most challenging time completely understanding how to support Arizona.
But you know, he did tell me, even not so long ago, maybe a month ago, when we were on the phone, “I just want you to know that I love Arizona like I love all my other grandchildren.” I said, “Well, that’s so sweet, Dad. But you should.” Thanks, Dad. No filter. My dad does not have a filter. My child does not have a filter. It’s very fun. But it’s been challenging.
The food allergy stuff has been honestly the most challenging, because whenever we visit, I have to have like a different set of pots and pan. I mean, it’s so stressful. And I’m like, “Don’t cook an egg in that pot.” “No, we can’t go out to eat. No, we can’t….” Our ability to just sort of be adventurous and explore. And that’s really challenging, because my family is “get up and go.” Let’s go kayaking. Let’s go do this, let’s go here, let’s get a cabin, and let’s go.”
And there’s so much work around preparing food stuff for Arizona, and it’s saddening to me. It’s a suffering for me, but it just is how it is. And we make do.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well thanks for sharing. So looking back over the last 15 years, I’m wondering, which organizations have played an influential role, either for Arizona directly or just for your family?
Susanna Peace Lovell: The one that has been by far the number one most impactful in terms of helping me and Arizona, my family and Arizona, is Cheerful Helpers Child and Family Study Center. It is a therapeutic preschool/kindergarten, that now goes up to first grade. Phenomenal. This is new. I just wish this was the case when Arizona was a student there.
But it’s a very therapeutic school where there is a very, very lovely ratio of adults to students. So there are like four adults in a classroom and maybe six or seven students. So it’s almost a two to one ratio. And the philosophy of Cheerful Helpers, sort of their mission statement, is treating the child by healing the entire family.
And so I learned at Cheerful Helpers that my child just needed her true self to come out. And so they were encouraging these “behaviors” that I was trying to run away from, and I was trying to get her therapies to stop doing.
And they’re like, “No, no, no. We’ve got to see it all. We’ve got to make sure we can integrate back into this child who she really is, and she’s not in trouble.” So she throws the pencil. “Arizona, you threw the pencil. Tell me why.” And it was just an eye opening experience for me in terms of just allowing this child to come out.
It’s very heavily parent oriented too, so I was in the classroom with Arizona every single day for three months. I mean, it was definitely a commitment, but it was honestly the most important three months of my entire life. And I learned so much how then to be able to parent Arizona in helping her process big feelings.
And so it was highly impactful in that way. So much so, that I actually do so much work with Cheerful Helpers now. I sit on the board of directors for them, and I help fundraise, and any time we can to do any sort of alumni support groups—we do it all.
Arizona gives back. She reads books. She does singalongs with the kids for certain events. She really knows where she came from. She was just talking about it this morning on the way to school. “Mommy, can we talk about Cheerful Helpers and Miss Ellen?” And, “Remember how I did this, and remember how I did that?”
And I learned so much. I had so many “aha” moments in that environment. And so I can say I’m indebted to Cheerful Helpers.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, thanks for sharing. We’ll be sure to include information on the Cheerful Helpers in the show notes.
So let’s talk about your life coaching business. I know you have a blog, you have some courses that you’ve created, you have services, you do one-on-one coaching workshops, some support groups. You’re a consultant, you’re a speaker, and I have no idea what a Reiki Practitioner is, but apparently that is a part of your repertoire as well. So, how would you describe your journey with the work that you’re doing?
Susanna Peace Lovell: So really everything that you just mentioned, in terms of all of the offerings I have as an advocate for special needs families, a life coach for special needs families, if you will, is everything that I needed and need for myself.
So what wished I had when I was first given a diagnosis for my child, when I first realized I have a different kind of child, I needed warm and fuzzy. I needed someone to give me a hug, and then to tell me exactly what to do. But I didn’t have that.
And in fact, a lot of the early medical professionals and therapists and so on were just very dismissive. Almost like, “Listen, you’re going to have a child who’s going to need so much help for the rest of their life, and she’s never going to do this. She’s never going to do that. She’s not going to do this. She’s going to have challenges with this.” That was the language. And I was like, “This is awful. Like who would could feel supported in this?”
If I can meet another mom who’s been through this, who can tell me everything is going to be okay, and then give me like a step by step. Every child with special needs is different, but there are certain things that remain the same in terms of advocating for your child, finding the right help for your child, finding the right therapist, finding the right school and learning environment, finding your own support, your own tribe, building that, integrating self-care into your life so that you have your balance and you can find joy.
All of these things I wished I had, so then I was like, “I’m going to create that.” My wish, David, is that everyone who receives a diagnosis for their child would have access to my course, because it really helps families.
Even if you didn’t recently get a diagnosis—maybe you got a diagnosis ten years ago—but now you’re struggling with something different, or you’re finding it hard to tap into your own sort of joy and own passion and creativity. Anyway, I was like, “How can I tell my story, but also be of service? How can I share what I had to learn, which I am still learning, still teaching what I most need to learn, but in a way that people can understand?”
It’s almost like a very spiritual journey, but there’s also a system. You know what I mean? And so I feel like I can bring both of those to the table, because I’ve experienced all of that, and I have a thriving child. My child is thriving in every sense of the word.
And even more so, I am in a thriving relationship with my 15-year-old teenage daughter that I never thought was going to exist. I never thought the relationship that I have with Arizona right now could be. And so I just want to encourage other families to just know everything is okay, you know? And your child is amazingly okay and perfect and whole and complete. And so how can we be in this world with them and all thrive together? It’s all very possible, and I can help you with that.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for sharing. I’m sort of curious to know, how does “We Are Brave Together” dovetail into all this?
Susanna Peace Lovell: So We Are Brave Together is like the icing on the cake for me. Again, it is something I wish I had when I was a mom who had just received a diagnosis 13 years ago. Because Arizona was around two. So I met Jessica Patay, who is the executive director and founder of We Are Brave Together, which is an amazingly awesome, uplifting, fabulous community for anyone who identifies as a special needs mom.
And I met her right before the pandemic, and I was like, “Sign me up.” So I was getting ready to attend all of these support groups for moms. And again, everything came from such like a loving, open, warm, embracing, you-are-not-alone place. I felt very uplifted.
And very early on in my introduction to We Are Brave Together, I said, “I would love to be the Los Angeles support group facilitator.” And so we talked through that, and it ended up being an amazing fit. I was all set to do my first in-person support group, and then March 2020 happened. So I’ve been leading virtual support groups during the entire pandemic.
I will actually have my first support group next Saturday in person, so that’s very exciting. It’s just been such an amazing community to be with other mothers. We vent and cry, but we also encourage and inspire. It’s such a lovely mission in terms of, “Not comparing, we’re just sharing,” right?
And we’re not here to sort of play the Hardship Olympics, and “Here’s what’s happening over here,” and “Woe is me, because here’s what’s happening over here.” We’re just like, “How can we support each other to thrive, and to evolve and to be in joy, really?” I’m so glad that all the moms out there who are just getting diagnoses are able to have this support.
By the way, it’s worldwide now, so there are support groups all over, certainly all over the country, and now Canada and some other places too. I think everything is still sort of virtual at the moment, but the great thing is that I will always continue to hold virtual support groups, and so anyone can join in anytime from anywhere.
And then the in-person ones I’ll probably do once every other month, but it’s just so energizing, it’s so exhilarating, you know, to be with a special community.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, We Are Brave Together is an amazing organization and like you just said, it’s an opportunity for moms to come together. I don’t think I’ve heard that phrase before, but I’m going to keep an ear open for it—the “Hardship Olympics.” Which is, you know, sort of going tit for tat, with somebody saying, “Oh, I have to do this, I have to do that, da, da, da, da, da.” And you know, if you could just wipe all that away and just say, “Hey, how can we improve our situation? How can I help you? How can you help me?”
What I really enjoy is the spirit of it, which is very similar to the Special Fathers Network. All we’re trying to do is get dads to come together, and have the more seasoned dads come alongside the dads that are closer to the beginning of their journey, raising a child with a similar or same special need, and to not have to figure it all out on their own.
You know, you feel like you’re almost ostracized from society at some level, and knowing that there are other parents who are going through the same thing, or have been there and done that makes the journey quite a bit easier. Not easy peasy, but it takes some of the edge off of it, so you can focus on, “What do I need to do to be the best person I can be?”
Like you said, you have to pull the oxygen mask down first to take care of yourself, because if you’re not bringing your A game every day, you’re not going to get the results you’re desirous of, or that your child deserves, for that matter.
Susanna Peace Lovell: Yes, yes, exactly.
David Hirsch: So I’m wondering if there were one or two things that you might share from an advice standpoint for a parent, and especially for a dad raising a child with different abilities.
Susanna Peace Lovell: Yes. So first of all, let me just say that I love dads so much. I just love dads. I would just share with dads like, “It’s okay to find space to express your own feelings, and to be upset and to be sad and to be disenchanted with the situation, and to have wishes and desires for your child, other than what is presented to you.”
I only say this because it’s typically in the special needs worlds, dads are the ones who are mostly the ones in denial. So I feel like if instead of backing away from what we’re afraid of, if we can lean into all of the beautiful offerings and experiences that we’re going to glean from raising this particular beautiful and amazing child, I think that’s where the real treasure is.
And so I guess to not be afraid to be vulnerable and step forward and to lean in and to be a part of the process. And to ask questions and to even sit with your own feelings and have your own outlets in terms of expression of feelings, I think is really impactful for everyone. But I think especially men, this is not something that we’re culturally familiar with, in terms of men expressing their feelings
. And so I embrace that. I’m working on that with my own father at the age of 76. “Tell me how you feel, Dad. Tell me how you feel.” I work on it with my brother, who is very much like most fathers. Like, “I got it. I’m going to help solve the problem here.” But there are some more things that he wants to talk about, so we are here for you.
I love my dads, and you don’t have to always be the strong person who can figure everything out. We’ve got to do this life together, you know? We can be vulnerable together, we can learn together, we can grow together. I mean, how beautiful for your children to see you expressing your feelings.
David Hirsch: Let’s give a special shout out to Jessica Patay with We Are Brave Together for connecting us.
Susanna Peace Lovell: Yes, thank you, Jessica.
David Hirsch: If someone wants to learn about your coaching business, We Are Better Together, the meetup groups, or to contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Susanna Peace Lovell: So I pretty much have everything you need to know about me on my website, which is my first, middle and last name.com. It’s www.susannapeacelovell.com. And so I have some blog posts in there. I have all the information about my online course. I have a handbook on my seven top tips for self-care as a special needs parent, totally free and downloadable as a pdf. You can sign up for that.
I do mention We Are Brave Together in a couple of my blogs, but you can also reach us there directly at wearebravetogether.com. And if you go to gatherings and support groups and you scroll through to the Los Angeles Support Group, those are the ones that I facilitate specifically.
I will often do a workshop or a speaking engagement for We Are Together too. So, amazing community, lots of offerings. We’re here for you, because we need it ourselves in order to get through this life, and to thrive and not just survive actually.
David Hirsch: So we’ll be sure to include all that in the show notes, so it’ll make it as easy as possible for people to follow up.
Susanna, thank you for taking the time and he many insights. As a reminder, Susanna’s just one of the individuals who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax deductible donation? I would really appreciate your support.
Susanna, thanks again.
Susanna Peace Lovell: Thank you, David.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help, or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad.
Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story, or know of a compelling story, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast was produced by me, Tom Couch. Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics, who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to develop and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at horizontherapeutics.com.