Why *This* Makes Us Better

I say all the time that being a special needs mom makes me a better parent for all of my kids. It also makes me a better person. Here is why I think that--no actually, here is why I know that.

I am less judgmental. I used to think I knew it all about parenting—you know—how I “would do it” if it was my kid. How I wouldn’t let my kid ever do that: How in Fred Meyer, I would never let my kid demand candy or how I would NEVER let my kid have a pacifier at age 3 (god forbid older!). Now, when I see parents, doing things that I don’t necessary *understand*, instead of being judgmental, I can realize that maybe, just maybe, those other parents do know what they are doing, and it is me who doesn’t get it. You know, maybe that kid has SPD or Autism and without the pacifier to keep himself calm and organized there a giant fit-- maybe even the parents haven't gotten a diagnosis yet and are worried and concerned every time they leave the house that people like the former me are judging them. Who knows, right?

I am a better problem solver
. It is amazing how after six years of teaching problem solving skills, how keenly aware I am of how to solve problems: With my all of my kids, with my friends, with my husband. I am not always great at it—meaning I am still human and can totally miss someone else’s view, but after a few years of Collaborative Problem Solving practice I am for the first time truly able to understand how it is possible to have a win-win solution. That can do wonders for your marriage, and I am really counting on it being helpful for the teenager years, especially with Nick.

I am a better friend. I have learned the true meaning of listening. After so many years of talking to people who flat out didn’t understand my life (at a time that I really didn't either), I have learned that what I wanted from them was to be heard.  I now realize how deeply we all need this -- no matter our problems, knowing that someone truly hears us, gives immeasurable emotional support.  I am now able to recognize this in the words of my friends. So when I say, “My kid had a meltdown today and trashed his room, threatened to kill me and then spent fifteen minutes crying so hard he couldn’t breathe” and my friend says, “Oh, my daughter has her first sleep over on Saturday!” I know now that she too wants the same thing as me—just simply to be heard. And I am actually able to do that for her which in turns, allows her to do it for me.

I know what the real victories are in life. I think everyone says that you should focus on the small victories every day. The reality is that is all I get.  So that is exactly what I have learned to love. A perfectly written word is enough for real celebration--no joke--pull out the party hats and bake a cake! A day without threatening any one is a true testament to my son’s ability to stay calm and organized and something that gives me great pride. Reading a book at grade level, having the sun out for us to get some Vitamin D, the fleeting moments where we are all sitting quietly at the table—those are what mean the most to me. I would never have been able to see this had it not been for this journey.

I am able to understand what it means to want your kids to be “happy”. Remember when you wanted your kid to be popular? Or play football? Or be a champion debater? Maybe you dreamed that he would attend your Alma Matter or have a great signing voice? What I know now, is that all I really want is for him to have a friend, for him to be able to play with other kids, that he be able to get his point across in a conversation without frustration. Now I dream that he will go to college—any college. I dream that he will find his voice wherever and whatever it may be. I truly know that I just want him to find happiness. True happiness in a place he belongs, with people who love him and a future that is only limited by his imagination.

I have learned not to rush my kids’ development. In retrospect I think it is so funny to know that I really wanted my kids to talk. Now, I just want them to stop! There is no more rushing speaking than there is rushing potty training. I actually *got* that by the time Matt was born. I also know that skills have to actually be taught—for most of us—not just those on the spectrum. How many people do you know that inadvertently make social mistakes still as an adult? I think my husband’s most famous is, “Try the salsa Adrienne brought—it tastes better than it looks!” Ouch. We all do have to learn each thing—step by step—mistake by mistake.

I have learned not to compare my life to others. This is a lesson that is hard to learn--and I still can't say I have truly mastered it.  I have to re-learn it regularly. Life is strange--you begin by comparing everything you have or do to your peers—from an early age it was who had the best lunchbox, who had the coolest clothes, who had the best hair, who was the most athletic, who had the coolest car, who went to the best college, who got the best job, who made the most money, who had the best house, and so on and so on. The reality is that no matter what I can compare to others in my life—comparing my family, my kids, their accomplishments, my day to day life, my stress level, my ability to do most things—just simply doesn’t compare to the average family. It has been a process to attain this understanding, and I still have moments where I am simply pissed that I can't hop a plane to Italy--but Holland does grow on you. :)

I have learned that I would rather have my problems, than yours. As strange as it is to say, it is totally true. The reality is that no matter how much my problems suck, they are mine, and I do have a much better chance of solving them than I do of solving yours. As my husband says, “The grass is not greener on the other side, it is just a different shade of brown.” So true. That means that no matter how much I am struggling, no matter how hard my decisions are, or my day to day life, I am still happy that I am *me* and have my problems and my kids.

I am more compassionate. I have always been empathetic, and compassionate my whole life, but now, I can truly say I feel others' pain when I see them struggling on this journey. I think because for most people, the problems they solve or the things they overcome are truly "over". For me, those feelings of crisis, both old and new, are right on the surface every day. The feelings of watching your child struggling at school, of failing at friendship, of each little thing never go far away--they are always here. And one comment from a woman new to this journey and I am immediately there again emotionally. I see that as a gift: A way my journey can mean more.

I am able to teach my children empathy. Most people think that empathy is something you have--or don't have--but don't get that it is taught. Parents are often doing that "how would you feel if....?" thing with their kids, but I honestly don't think most of them could tell you why. I am clear on why we teach empathy, how to teach empathy, and because of my special needs kiddo, my other boys are forced to practice empathy daily--more often than they'd like. I think that is a blessing. A true added value to this whole thing--my boys are going to be good people--capable of seeing other's pain and perspective. They too will be better for this journey.

I have deeper connections with people. This is a strange one to explain, but when your children's health is first and foremost on your mind, every day, every hour, and every minute, you end up having to give more of yourself to each interaction because, well, you can't help it. We all start doing the opposite--we are afraid, we get closed off, we feel like no one understands, we become isolated and more. But at some point, you learn that your special needs kiddo is a defining trait of you. And as hard as it is to deal with, that too becomes who you are--a person who wears their heart on their sleeve everyday because to hold it in is just too painful. Then the beauty of all of that emotion comes out--you connect with people on a level that is amazing. Maybe at first, it is just those who also have special needs kiddos, but eventually it is everyone--your "pain" is seen as you being open and honest and people respond to that. They feel like they can immediately trust you with their "pain". And a deeper connection is born as they are able to be open for the first time.

I feel like I could go on and on about how this journey has shaped me for the better. How this journey has changed how I parent and how it has made me a better wife, friend and person--not to mention mother--

I will conclude by asking you to spend this weekend focused on what the "journey" has *given* to you--I think you will be amazed that some of the greatest gifts come from what can seem like the worst situation.



Chynna said...

I needed this today. Thank you for reminding us of the 'good stuff' that comes with being a 'senational' parent.

I believe I'm a better parent to my other kiddos because of what I've learned, and am learning, along my journey with Jaimie.

Talk to you soon!


The Encouraging Mom said...

Great post! I have always said one of the silver lining of having a child with special needs is that he gets to remain my "baby boy or little boy" a little bit longer. lol I have also met some amazing friends I would never have met if it had not been for his diagnosis. in fact you are right I am much less judgemental, and it is nice to hang out with those friends because I know if my spd boy has a complete meltdown because something is not just right then I won't get "the looks" that I get from others. Plus it is nice to talk to other parents who get it and can see past his disability and see his wonderful sense of humor, his delightful smile, his cute quirky sayings and they realize and get how cool he is and all his good points. they don't "see" the tougher parts. :)

In Real Life said...

Yes! So true! Thank you for posting this. I love focusing on the positives!

heatherloub said...

You are so right! You become very humble.

It has made me want to reach out to more to help if there is a need because we know how it feels.

I always say "God will only give you what you can handle".

We are always learning.

Even when my son is having an off day we try to focus on the positives.

Surrounding yourself in fellowship with others that are on the same adventure with you is the greatest support of all.

Casey said...

Wonderful post, I agree with you 100%. having a special child really does make you a special parent.

Kris said...

Great post! And it is all so true!!

Mia @ Finding Balance said...

I really like this. It is very true, I believe, that being a parent of a child with special needs brings you to heights you would have never seen. This is one of those lists, that while true, should be printed out and placed somewhere you can see each day to remind yourself just how much you've (I've) changed for the positive.

Good article.

Marcia said...

Amen and amen! Thanks so much for this post!

Stacey,momof 2 said...

Thanks for saying what I've been thinking... :) Now if the masses... would just hear our plea!

Blessed Rain said...

Keep up the good work.
For some people when they hear the words I have run the race and I have kept the faith they smile and think oh yeah that's easy, and their are others who when they say those words understand what it means to the very inner core of their soul.
Never stop fighting, never stop running and never stop believing that all is possible.
I can tell that you are the type of mother that won't settle for less or allow their children to fall through the cracks.
Love your blog!

Anonymous said...

Couldnt have been said any better - that really made me "think" for a minute and is true and inspiring, thank you for brightening my day, sometimes it just really needs to be heard from another person..

K- floortime lite mama said...

Brilliant post
Hartley there is a lot of heart in u

Making Sense of the Senses said...

Great post!! It is soooo true. I have always prayed to God to make me a better person. He gave me my daughter=)