Updated: Dec 4, 2019
If you are raising a child with anxiety, ADHD, autism, or any other developmental challenge, you have had some moments when you don’t feel grateful at all. Am I right? There have been moments when you looked at others and thought, “Why can’t my kid just sit down and eat like that kid?” or “Wow, that kid just walked right into that classroom like it was nothing!” When your child isn’t meeting milestones “on-time” or they are on their own path with their social-emotional development, you notice how other families’ lives appear easier. When you catch yourself feeling this way, just remember: your path is teaching you many lessons you would have never learned if your child had not been your child. You are stronger for it and there is gratitude to be found here.
In my waiting room, there is often an unspoken connection between the parents of my clients. They notice each other in passing, but only sometimes talk to each other. Even without a verbal exchange, I can feel the “I don’t know you, but you get it” feeling that travels through the air sending vibes of solidary to the mom or dad across the room. It’s an unspoken message saying, “I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I know it’s been hard. Me too. So glad we’re not alone.”
As a special needs parent, you have had to search hard and dig deep for moments of gratitude, and you’ve gotten really good at it. Here's why:
1. You appreciate the tiny “wins” SO MUCH
Remember when you wanted to have a baby and you had an imaginary child in your head?
Would they like sports like I do?
Would they be musical like their dad?
They’ll for sure go to college. That’s expected in this family.
For some reason, we think we are in control of these outcomes. Then we have children and realize that this little human is their own little being with their own big plan. You can shape and mold, but when your child has developmental obstacles, whatever image you had is shattered and you get very used to following their path. Your expectations for your child have no time frame other than the next skill they are working on. For some it’s a smile, or a point, or sharing a toy. For others it’s walking into a classroom alone, handling a disappointment, or remembering to bring home an agenda. Whatever the “win” is, your child has created their own path of achievement and you don’t miss a single moment of progress because it feels SO GOOD when it happens.
2. You know how to celebrate progress over achievement
This is a lesson many parents don’t learn until middle school when they begin to let their child fail in order to build independence. You are years ahead of the curve on this one. Since the little wins feel so good, you have lost interest in the finish line. You don’t care so much about grades and you really only hope your child survives the standardized test. You care that your child is learning a skill and is making forward progress. Your child will benefit from your emphasis on progress over achievement. They will know it’s not what someone says about them that defines their success, but what they feel about themselves that makes pride grow and motivates them to master the next skill.
3. You can spot a small problem from a mile away
Once upon a time, when I was in a really hard season with my son, I overheard another group of moms complaining about how their child had not been placed in the same class as their best friend. We all have different perspectives that lead to our own struggles, which are ALL valid. However, from my perspective on that day, I remember thinking, “How lucky you are that your child has a friendship so strong that it’s a problem not to be in the same class.”
All problems are relative to our previous experiences. Once you have experienced your child getting kicked out of preschool, your child being physically aggressive towards you, or your child feeling suicidal, you get really good at spotting a small problem and letting it go. You have learned that you have to let go of the little stuff because you have to reserve your energy for the big stuff (or you’re already drained because of it).
4. You have become the most flexible human ever
There is no one more flexible in the world than a special-needs parent. You know how to pick your battles. You also have some serious problem-solving skills. When your kid doesn’t like Plan A and then Plan B falls through, you have a Plan C (or D or E) in your back pocket. If you’re new here, you may not feel like this yet. Trust me, you will get there and when you do, you will have new skills you never had before. I’m convinced that any random sample of special-needs parents could run a small country.
5. You see the best in people
Every person suffering in the world was once a child. Instead of “What’s wrong with him?” you understand why trauma-informed therapists say “What happened to him?” You live with your child and know that she is doing her best every day. You know that you are doing your best every day. So when someone makes a mistake or apologizes, you are quick to say, "It’s ok. We’re all doing the best we can." We’re all in this together. This is why we need each other and why we build communities to support each other.
I am grateful for all of you this year! To all of my clients, parents, and blog readers I do not even know, thank you for supporting children, families, and each other!
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