I have always wanted to be a mother. I had a childhood fantasy of having twin girls named Stacey and Tracey (adorable, right?). I was more than eager to start a family after getting married. At that time in my life I was working as a speech therapist and not enjoying it. It seemed like the perfect time to take a break from one job and begin my lifelong dream- starting a family.
I was sure that the void I was feeling in my life and career would be filled the second I became a mother and I would finally have the sense of purpose I was longing for. And in many ways, this did happen. Man came into this world, tiny and perfect, and filled my heart with so much love—a kind of love that I didn’t know existed. However, from early on, he was a challenge. I can recall him military-crawling across the room at four and a half months old and thinking he was a physical phenomenon. I realized shortly after—when I found he had slid himself to the top of the staircase and was about to take a ride down the stairs headfirst, that a phenomenon he was not. What he was, was a danger to himself.
People often ask when I knew my child had ADHD and SPD. I didn’t know immediately what he had, but I knew from birth that he was different, and challenging in a way that many kids were not. At two, when other parents were reducing their babyproofing efforts, we were upping the ante in our house. By four, when his peers had begun to listen to directives from their parents—directives that would keep them out of bodily harm—Man was still deaf to my warnings, running wildly through parking lots, thrilled and care free, as I yelled at him to stop. He was my sweet, loving, first born little boy, and he made my heart sing—but he was (and still is) HARD.
I wrestled with my feelings about this for years. Parenting was supposed to make me happy and complete me in a way that nothing else did, right? Imagine my sadness and fear when I had to face the fact that motherhood was taking a larger toll on me than I had expected. All parenting is challenging, but being the parent of a child with special needs, whether mental, physical, or medical, comes with its own unique set of challenges. It took me a long time to accept that. I found it nearly impossible to face the fact that being a mom, something I had wanted forever, was not exactly what I thought it would be. Having such feelings was confusing and depressing. It was tough to distinguish the feelings regarding my role as a special needs parent, from my feelings about my sweet Man. I loved my Man, but I did not always love the challenges he threw my way- and that fact in no way made me a bad mother.
It took time to come to the realization that our challenges required a different set of answers than those of my mom friends with neuro-typical children. Over the last year, I have completely overhauled my life and the way I view my parenting. Here are some things that I have done to stay sane and productive as a special needs mom:
I stopped comparing my child to those of my peers. This was huge for me. Every child is different and unique. The strengths of one are not going to be the strengths of another. This fact is what makes the world go around. If we were all the same, there would be no innovation, no advancements. Every person serves a purpose, and my child’s purpose is different than yours. He might never play soccer, or be class president, but mark my words, he is brilliant and unique in his own right. He may cure cancer one day.
I sought out other special needs moms. I need other moms of children with special needs in my life. They are my rocks and my support. They understand my day to day successes and failures in a way that other moms just can’t. I simultaneously stopped trying to get parents of neuro-typical children to understand my plight. It was taking an emotional toll on me to continuously try to get other parents to understand that their day-to-day lives were just different than mine. I’m not diminishing that their days are difficult, but it truly is just different.
I got a babysitter and sought more help from family! For far too long, I thought that I could and SHOULD do it all myself. I was afraid to put the responsibility of Man on anyone else. Frankly, following a few bad experiences of babysitters dismissing my warnings about his behavior as me being a “hover mother” and then learning the hard way that I was not, I was also too worried leave him with anyone. But as he got older, I let go of this fear and accepted the fact that I desperately needed a break and that didn’t make me selfish. I found someone that I trust and now she spends oodles of quality time with the kids while I spend a little time on me.
Which brings me to the next one, I spend time to myself! I gave myself permission to focus on me. Being a parent doesn’t mean that I must be my children’s sole caregiver. I now have returned to school to pursue my passion.
I exercise. Endorphins are amazing things, my friends! It gives me a mental and physical health that allows me to face the day to day challenges in my life. If you feel good about yourself, it makes everything else in your life that much easier.
I accepted that my best was good enough. As a parent of a special needs child, we want to fix our kids, to make that square peg fit into a round mold. This is just impossible. All we can do is our best to support them in the way that they need it, and the rest is up to our kids, and that must be ok.
I stopped hiding my feelings and I forgave myself. When I finally admitted that I was unhappy with the life situation I found myself in, I could begin making changes. You can’t control your feelings, but you can control how you express them. I was angry for a long time, and now I have the chance to let go of that anger and replace it with more positive energy. But that was only possible after I could let those feelings out.
Being a special needs mom isn’t easy, in fact, it’s downright hard most days! However, your personal happiness does not have to be tied to your child’s challenges!