Every parent wishes they had a handbook to guide them through the journey of raising children. But somehow, through trial and error and a lot of prayer, we make our way, raising our kids the best way we know how. However, when you have a child with special needs, that handbook would come in even more handy. As a parent of three children, each with their own set of challenges, I wanted to share some “tools” that have helped me so far in my mothering.
Courage Without a doubt the first emotion that you feel when your child is diagnosed is FEAR. You fear what the future holds for your child. You fear your ability to care for your child now that things will not be easy. You fear what you don’t understand. But fear does not allow you to help your child. Your child was not given to you by chance; you have within you the capability to be a wonderful parent to that child. You just need to push those fears aside and go forward with courage.
Knowledge Once you are ready to face the challenge ahead, just like anything difficult in life, you need to gather knowledge and understanding. Call every doctor you can think of, seek out therapies, read books and good medical websites dealing with your child’s condition. Learn as much as you can. Find all available resources in your area. Find a support group. The more knowledge you gain, the more you can help your child.
Acceptance A diagnosis is a hard pill to swallow. I know this well, having three children diagnosed with different challenges. You start to see the diagnosis more than your own child. This can be detrimental to your own happiness as a parent. You must see your child for who they really are, and realize that the diagnosis is a part of them and makes them unique and special. Don’t be afraid of what your child does or doesn’t do; accept it and love your child no matter what.
Determination This one is crucial, because no matter how many doctors you have on your side, no matter how many people are supporting you, in the end, the one person who will do more for your child than anyone else is you! You are your child’s biggest advocate. Don’t let anything stop you from getting help for your child, from getting answers that you need. Don’t ever give up.
Patience Having special needs children means things will be hard. There’s no way around that. You will be dealing with behaviors, delays in development, lots of doctor visits, long nights, unanswered questions; the list goes on and on. You have to be willing to wait for results, for answered calls, and for answered prayers, too. Progress will never happen overnight, so have patience and keep doing the right things for your child, even if it seems like nothing is improving.
Endurance Life is all about enduring to the end. Special needs children must learn to endure with the specific challenges they have been given. Some might be temporary, and some last a lifetime. Our job as parents is to help them learn to endure in this life and give them the knowledge and tools necessary to do so. At the same time, we must learn to endure as they face these challenges. It can be exhausting, but as long as we know we are doing all we can, we can endure.
Hope There are going to be dark days, days where you feel all alone, where you feel like you just can’t go on as a parent, where you cry yourself to sleep, worrying about your child’s future and well-being. These days are inevitable, but they are only days. Do whatever you can to keep the spark of hope alive in yourself as a parent. Remember, this child was given to you for a specific purpose, so you are capable of being a wonderful parent. Hope will sustain you during those dark days.
Joy Even amidst those dark days, there can be moments of joy. Joy in seeing your child achieve a new skill that took months, even years to accomplish. Joy in hearing your child speak for the first time. Joy in getting the help you have been seeking from a specific doctor or teacher. Take joy in progress, big or small. These moments are what keep our hope alive, what keep us going every day. Don’t let yourself get weighed down by the burdens and worries you feel. Pay more attention to the joyful moments.
Love. We all love our children dearly. No matter what challenges our child may have in this life, we can love them just the same. Show your child you love them by giving more of your time. Play with them, laugh with them, be with them. Don’t allow your child’s disabilities to rob you of the love you feel; love is eternal. Say “I love you” every day.
No matter what your child’s challenges are, face them. Accept them. Fight for them. Find joy in them. And above all, love them. No one can do this but you. Don’t ever shut your toolbox. Use these tools–and others that you have been given– and trust in your abilities as a parent.
QUESTION: Which tool strikes you as the most needed in your own situation right now? What would be the next step in developing this skill or attribute?
CHALLENGE: In the comment section below, please add your experience with these tools or any additional insights that have been vital in your parenting.
Edited by Dawn Wessman and Sarah Monson.
Image from Shutterstock/Graphics by Julie Finlayson.