Every day after I dropped my daughter off at pre-K, I would let my (then) 3-year old son run around the play area as I sat down exhausted from the “getting-3-kids-in-the-car for school drop-off gauntlet.”
As soon as I sat down and took a deep breath, I would find myself back on my feet, racing to prevent my son from the mishap that was about to ensue. And once the situation was intercepted and diffused, I would run back to the fussing baby I left in the stroller.
I recall thinking, why do I ever leave the house?
I watched as other moms sat, chatted and enjoyed adult time while their children played. It was so easy to assume. To watch them and think, why can’t I have it so easy?
Let me stop here.
Because despite my struggles, and despite what I know now about the needs of my boys, I know for a fact that NO mom has it easy.
All of us moms struggle and thrive, weep and rejoice. There is SO much about the experiences of motherhood that are universal.
But for sake of sharing this personal anecdote, I wrestled thoughts like that at that time. Because at that time- I was drowning.
I had 3 children- 5, 3 and a baby. In order for me to make it from the car into the building where my daughter’s pre-k class was, I had to use the side-by-side double stroller for the boys. I would force it through several doors that I fully believe widened supernaturally in a “Harry Potter” kind of way upon my passing through. I could feel some of the other moms watch me struggle and wonder why I was insistent on using this stroller. I tired of the “are you sure that’s gonna fit?” comments.
Trust me, I had tried the other option. But they all ended with the 3-year old escaping to the point of getting lost OR a full-out wrestling match between us, as I struggled to keep him by my side. Did I mention there was a baby in tow? And a 5-year old who needed my attention as she worked through all the feelings that going to school for the first time brings.
So yea. I used the double stroller, and I learned to not care.
It wasn’t just the transitions that required reinforcements. There were so many instances; on playgrounds, during playdates, being invited to another’s house for a meal, or even trying to catch up with other families before or after church where it was clearly evident that my child’s behavior was not approved of, and definitely misunderstood.
During the year that my 3-year old turned 4, I battled the urge to take him for an evaluation. I daily wrestled between thoughts that maybe there was something else contributing to his behaviors, or maybe it was just me. Maybe I was the problem. Maybe I wasn’t firm enough, consistent enough or tolerant enough.
That year was rough.
But it was also the year that the Lord gave me one of the greatest blessings I would ever have. At the time, I didn’t know it, but I felt it.
She was the mother of another girl that was going to the same pre-school. In fact, she was the one who told me about the pre-school. Her husband worked for the organization that we had moved from Virginia to be a part of and they were the ones that welcomed my husband, our two-children and my 8-month pregnant self to the area just a year prior.
The way they welcomed us was unlike anything I have ever experienced. It wasn’t just the way the way they stocked our fridge and were waiting to greet us at 10PM the night we pulled in with the moving truck, or the way they immediately connected us to a church and a community, it was the way they embraced us as if they had always known and cared for us.
I felt it this one particular day after we dropped our daughters off at pre-k and we met up in the empty church hall to let our boys play. As we started to attempt a conversation, my 3-year old started to fall into his typical patterns of “play” which meant intervention was necessary and conversation an illusion and I just couldn’t hold back the tears.
I was exhausted. Tired of trying and failing. Tired of trying not to worry about what other people thought. Tired of wrestling between thoughts of whether or not there was something wrong with him or something wrong with me.
She looked at me and simply asked, “Oh no, are you ok?”
Upon that, I could feel my body kind of surrender. I stopped wrestling my son to stay still, I allowed myself to kneel on the ground and exhaled some tears. I felt safe sharing with her my fears and concerns. I shared with her how I truly felt, and how much I had been wrestling with the idea of talking to someone about my anxiety as well as my son’s behaviors. I verbally processed with her how I didn’t know what to do first, but I knew I couldn’t just keep going on the way we were.
She not only listened, but without any suggestions, any correction, or the condemnation that can often accompany well-meaning advice, she provided affirmation, love and encouragement. She let me know that she could hear and see my anguish. But most of all, I felt like she let me know that she could see a mom who loves her kids and is just trying to do what’s best, and struggling to figure out what that might be.
Isn’t that amazing?
What’s even more amazing is that she has never stopped. That was over 6 years ago.
In the beginning, there was still so much unknown, still so much to learn. Over the course of our friendship my middle son received an additional diagnosis each year. He started with sensory processing disorder at age 4 and now at age 9 we have identified ADHD, Anxiety, ODD and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
My youngest son also was initially diagnosed with a speech delay, that after over a year of intervention changed into a concern for hearing loss. She was there with me in the hospital as he was put to sleep and I awaited the results. She sat with me as I processed that he had hearing loss in both ears and was going to need hearing aids. She navigated the darkness as we awaited the genetic testing results and then the reality of what was the cause- Usher’s Syndrome.
She’s been through 2 cochlear implant surgeries with us, she endures the noise volume in our house that is often off the charts and she never gives up trying to stay connected and get together even though we are limited in availability because of commuting to school and therapies. And she also tells me that I am doing a great job as a mom, usually at the exact moment I need to hear it.
I share this specific detail, because when you meet someone, when you find a friend, you connect based on what you know about them and how you feel around them. She did not know then, all that was to come.
She also has 3 children, similar ages to mine and that means her children have walked through the unknown with us as well. Which means her children have often experienced the struggle too.
I still to this day am amazed at how she continues to balance the parental obligation to protect and aid your own children when they experience negative behaviors from another child, maintain boundaries, and at the same time when needed offer grace, wisdom and correction in love! She has become a parent figure in the lives of my children that they not only can trust, but can rely on for a model of what grace and authority looks like. And she has lovingly educated her children on diversity, special needs and various disabilities.
I won’t forget to mention that her life has not been without challenge! She has walked her own journey of difficult pregnancies, early deliveries, navigating unexpected and unpredictable health needs for her children all while homeschooling and juggling the multitude of needs that motherhood in general brings. She has taught me so much. She is a warrior.
I don’t know how she does it, but she inspires me.
She inspires me to be a better friend.
At one point in my life I thought my friendships would be only with other parents of children with special needs. Which would be OK if that was the case. I thought that playdates would only be possible with other families who knew the social and behavioral struggles that we navigate every minute.
But her family has blessed our family so much with the opportunity to learn and grow and somewhat “practice” all they are learning in therapy about appropriate social behaviors, emotional regulation and self-control. Which I fully believe is the blessing of playtime for all parents and children, regardless of their needs! But there is something so special about our time together, because every time we are, for a moment, I feel like I am just a mom, and they are just kids. The “extra” realities or challenges we face or will face seem to fade away.
It can be very easy to only see life through one lens when you have children with extra needs because there is not an aspect of life that disability doesn’t touch. This can often create a barrier for myself and others from connecting.
I discovered at some point on our journey that honesty and transparency are necessary for me to care for my family well and for myself.
For a while I felt very uncomfortable using the term “special needs.” Especially in the early years when the most common response from others when I tried to explain that there was more to my child’s behavior than meets the eye was, “Oh, he’s just a boy,” OR “He just needs more discipline.”
It honestly took several factors for me to feel confident to use the term, almost as if I needed an acceptance letter into the special needs community.
When your child’s disabilities are not as visibly obvious as others- parents, schools, teachers, and even insurance companies can make it feel like we live in a world where we are either “too special needs” or “not special needs enough.”
It wasn’t until after connecting with other parents who had children with similar needs, and speaking with counselors, and therapists, reading books, and attending conferences that I started to realize using the description “special needs,” or “extra needs,” or even “child with more” was perfectly accurate to use.
When my husband and I took inventory over how much of our budget and schedule, energy and emotions and unfortunately our conversations revolve around therapy, medicine and doctor appointments, we began to feel affirmed in accepting that our lives were greatly impacted by the needs of our children.
That being said, I know for a fact that special needs or not, it is hard to find a loving mom or dad who doesn’t find themselves overwhelmed by or just constantly trying to balance all those things mentioned above. Every parent who loves their child is carrying a lot and deserves someone who can come alongside them and say, “I see you, and you are doing amazing.”
I never want another mom to feel unable to share their struggles with me. It is motherhood that unites us, and IT SHOULD!
They say it takes a village to raise a child and that is because child and parent alike need the support of others.
Every mama needs someone who gets “it.” Someone who can practically finish their sentences when sharing their heartaches and hopes. And every mama needs someone who wants to. Someone who is willing to meet you where you are, ask questions and learn how life is different for you as well as how you can relate!
While some of our experiences in motherhood differ, my beloved friend has always held a posture of someone who genuinely wanted to know what life as a mother of children with special needs was like, how I was handling it and how she could support me. And I can honestly say that her friendship is priceless.
I can’t wait to share more personal stories and thoughts in my next blog about how important it is to have a friend who has also walked your road before AND/OR is walking it at the same time as you! Stay tuned as I share how valuable it is to be close with other moms who have children “with more” like yours!