Perhaps the first attribute I discovered that I lacked, after becoming a mother, was patience. My lack of patience was especially noticeable because my child has special needs, and that means waiting—a long time—to see my child make any progress. It also means learning to control my anger or frustration, and trusting that things will get better. Though I am still learning how to be patient, I wanted to share some strategies I have used to begin developing this crucial characteristic.
Realize that progress will not happen overnight. Over the years, I have delved into many different therapies for my daughter, who is on the autism spectrum. Vision therapy was one that intrigued me about five years ago, and though it was costly and very time-intensive, I went for it anyway. I would take her to her appointment, the doctor would show us what we needed to do, and then he’d send us home with a packet full of stuff to work on before the next week. So we’d try, really hard, to incorporate this therapy into the others she was doing, and after a few months of not really seeing any progress and me feeling defeated by my inability to be dedicated to this home program, we quit.
I never saw the progress that could have resulted. In addition to giving up, this was my attitude: “This isn’t going to do anything for her. Why am I wasting my time?” However, I never gave it enough time to show results. I wanted the progress to be quicker, and I wasn’t willing to put in the time to see it. So I threw in the towel.
Raising special needs children is a process, a commitment. Mothers of special needs children will not see amazing things happen right away. It’s not like curing your child of a common illness where you know the end will come. For children with disabilities, the end is indefinite, undetermined. And because of this, from time to time we feel weighed down by lots of behaviors and overwhelmed by lots of therapy appointments. The key is for us to just do the ones we think will help our children (and you will know—I promise), and be dedicated to them, for the long haul. From my viewpoint, I can look back on the many years of speech or occupational or physical therapy and see what a difference it has made. If we give up, we will never know how far our children could have gone. We need to be patient, keep going, and not throw in the towel.
Don’t compare your child to others. Comparing my child with others is very easy for me to do, even now that my daughter is almost 12. One skill that we’ve been working on for years now is swimming. She is still deathly afraid of swimming in a deep pool, and because swimming isn’t something we can practice all year, she loses the progress she makes each summer and it feels like we are starting over.
We felt this again as we started swim lessons a few weeks ago. And I have to admit, looking out at all the kids swimming independently in their group classes, and then seeing my daughter with her private teacher, still struggling to just put her face in the water, I was a little disheartened. But I tried to focus on the progress she made during those two weeks and not even care what others were doing. If I were to compare her to the other, much younger children, I would always feel defeated.
As parents, we want to be proud of our children. We want to celebrate the milestones and achievements they make. But with a special needs child, most of those milestones either don’t exist or come much later. This can rob parents of the joy and pride they feel in raising children. But if you watch patiently and carefully, you will be able to see the progress of your child. And really, that’s all that matters. You will never be a happy parent if you are comparing your special needs child to other children, or even other special needs children, for that matter. Each child is born with a unique potential, and as parents, all we have to worry about is helping our child get there.
Prepare yourself to make a lot of sacrifices. If I were to add up the many hours I’ve spent on the phone advocating for my daughter, writing emails or letters for IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings, or driving her to different therapies, the number would be staggering. Just when I thought we’d gotten through one tough hurdle, whether it be a schooling or a medical issue, another one would pop up. And this pattern has continued and always will, because my daughter will always have needs, and I can’t give up on being a parent. She is depending on me to help her achieve, and I am helping her become as independent as she can be. I have never regretted the many countless hours I’ve spent on her behalf, because she is worth it.
This doesn’t mean I don’t make time for myself, because that is important. And if I don’t get that time, I will most definitely lose my patience more often during the stressful times. But it means that if there’s a problem, I am willing to sacrifice my time, hobbies, interests, or pursuits in order to solve it. I doubt anyone is really drawn to the word sacrifice, but being a parent is all about it. We are able to make those sacrifices because of our love for them.
Take the better path. If you ever find yourself at a time when your child is given a medical or disability diagnosis, there are two paths you can take: the better path or the bitter path. You might travel down the better path for a while, feeling confident in your abilities, but suddenly find yourself feeling overwhelmed by it all, and start trudging down the bitter path.
I have been down both paths, and I found that the bitter path is much harder to leave. Once you are trapped in bitterness, it’s hard to go back to that “better” person. Staying on the better path seemed easy in the beginning, but as the years went by, I found myself feeling like maybe all the work and effort wasn’t worth it, and I started to feel bitter. In short, my patience had disappeared, and along with it, my ability to endure. In that place, I had to dig deep, to find that strength again, so I could keep going.
Raising special needs children has been an adventure, a blessing in disguise. I will keep moving along, patiently, because of the love I feel for my children, and the love they have for me.
QUESTION: How patient are you with your child? Evaluate your ability to keep your patience in a variety of situations.
CHALLENGE: Whether or not your child has special needs, choose one of the strategies listed above to improve your ability to be patient as a parent.
Edited by Amanda Lewis and Becky Fawcett.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.