Dayna - It Was Hard to Find Joy in the Journey

Dayna - It Was Hard to Find Joy in the Journey

Your purpose as a mother changes and evolves as time goes on. Some stages are blissful and amazing. Other stages are a little less exciting. Other stages are just plain hard. Dayna learned a lot during a particularly difficult stage of parenting that has shaped her as a person.

Her oldest son, Gabe has been through a lot. When he was about a year old, his parents knew something was wrong. They just knew. He would bang his head on the floor, he would rip out his hair, he wasn’t sleeping, and he had constant diarrhea. It was uncontrollable madness! And it was hard. It was hard!

At this time, the family lived in Utah, where they started him in a birth to three program, in hopes that they would be able to find some solutions. Unfortunately, the school didn’t help much. They were not able to see the progress that they were expecting. At 18 months old, he still wasn’t speaking. Not even “mama or dada”.  Something was definitely not right.

“I just knew that something was off.”  

They moved to Connecticut when Gabe was two and a half years old, and Dayna was 35 weeks pregnant. They had family in the area, but their family members were very busy with some big things going on in their lives. While they did provide some support and companionship, it still felt like not enough support for a struggling new mom. Each of these three life events; a big move, a pregnancy, and a toddler, as isolated events can make someone feel very lonely all by itself. And with all three of them together Dayna felt just that. It was a struggle.

A year later, about 3 and a half years into this parenting journey, Dayna now had a small baby that that wasn’t sleeping all night and needed her attention all day. She also had her very active three year old who was at the age of tantrums and high emotions. He also required constant vigilance. He did not have any fear. He would bang his head on the floor, which was scary. He would also run straight into the middle of the street without any warning, which was even scarier. It was a really tough time. They had to constantly be on guard in order to protect him. Her energy was drained.

Amidst all of this going on in the home, the family finally started to get some answers. And when it rains, it pours! Diagnosis after diagnosis kept coming into their lives adding more of a weight onto an already strained situation. Gabe had an autism diagnosis, and auditory processing diagnosis, a speech and language diagnosis, a phonological processing diagnosis, an ADHD diagnosis, and encopresis, which is GI issues, so his body was not digesting the nutrients. This caused malnutrition the first three years of his life. All of this came within 6 months. Talk about a downward spiral!  As amazing as it was to get answers, this new reality was very overwhelming.

“It was hard to find joy in the journey”

 Their new normal became intense! It was not the sitting on the couch cuddled under blankets kind of parenting that we see in the movies. This was a while different, unexpected kind of parenting that Dayna had not envisioned when she thought of motherhood. Gabe would require a 40-hour week of all different kinds of therapy. Dayna basically raised her second son in therapy waiting rooms.  Parenting didn’t feel all that joyful. It didn’t feel fun. It was a very hard, lonely time. Dayna had to really rely on friends, prayer and her husband to help her to get through this.

“It felt so hard to be alone, and it felt very hard to be a parent.”

On top of the emotional struggles, finding these answers was extremely expensive, and helping their child navigate through them was even more expensive. The cost of getting the autism diagnosis alone was $5,000, and that was just the start of the spending. They were struggling emotionally, physically, and financially. Helping their children was a top priority, and they were willing to make sacrifices. Soon, they had exhausted all of their resources, and they were really struggling to stretch their paychecks. Emotions were high, and money got tight. 


As statistics show that finances can be one of the most difficult things a couple has to deal with, you probably already guessed that this was the period of time that they had the most friction in their marriage. They knew that they would have to be proactive in order to keep the connection alive, so they decided that they would put their marriage first. Finding joy in the journey was having a couples retreat every year.

“Even though we could not afford a couples retreat every year, we put our marriage first and made it happen.”

But wait, didn’t we just say that money was extremely tight? How did they make this happen? In order to cut down on costs, they would always go somewhere within a three hour drive, which cut down on traveling cost and optimized their time together. They also always tried to get family to help them babysit. These retreats became essential for Dayna. This was something that she could look forward to during the daily grind. Even though money was tight, it was a worthwhile investment in for them to spend the money not heir marriage. These getaways made all the difference.

“That meant everything to me. To have those couple of days where I could just be myself again. It was huge!”

She is now in a new stage of her life, where things are a little more calm, and she can look back at lessons learned in her journey. But, if she could go back and tell herself something at those early stages, in the middle of the uncertainty, she would tell herself not to focus on the finances. If you have faith, things will happen. If you need a babysitter, what is $20 to give you a 2 hour break? It is worth it. She felt she could not afford an outlet, and she was also too exhausted to create an outlet for herself, but mothers need to be themselves somehow.


“If you have faith, things will happen.” 

She has come up with a brilliant plan to help her if and when she ever gets into a hard place in her parenting again, because we all know that it happens to all of us. She has made a list of the little things that make her happy. When she is having a hard time, and she needs to find herself again, the work has already been done. She does not have to try to remember how to find joy. She just needs to look at her list and find something that she can do at the moment. She suggests that this list can be digital or physical, it just needs to exist and be accessible. A list is important, because when you are in the moment, you forget what makes you happy. Heck, you forget that happiness can exist for you! A little bit of preparation can go a long way here.

If you are feeling down, just look at the list of things that make you happy and pick one that you can do at that moment. Read a book, sit on the patio with a cup of tea, do a quick 20-minute workout, put on a show for the kids, go hiking. Do something little, but something meaningful to you. You just need to come back to yourself. Not everything on the list can be done all the time. Dayna loves 4-wheeling, but it is not something that she has accessible to her all the time. But her husband drives a jeep, so she can put the top down and go for a drive. The important thing is doing something that works for you, and finding ways to remind you of the good in your life.

“It will change everything!”

Story about Dayna Checketts
Photos by Alli Miles and Jennifer Woodbury
Taking a couples retreat once a year changed everything
If you have faith, miracles will happen
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