When groups of parents hang out or socialize, I’ve noticed that parents of kids with special needs or learning disabilities tend to find each other. It’s as if we have a homing signal that draws us together. We share something and understand things in a way that other parents sometime don’t get.
It doesn’t even have to be a life altering special need; it’s enough to be parenting a square peg in our round-hole world– the type of kid who just doesn’t fit the mold.
One of the things we get is the inherent “what if’s” and “what then’s” that seem to come with the territory of parenting a child that is “different”. The fears that wake us up at night with a grip of panic about what the future will bring for this child… and also for us.
Author Elizabeth Stone said:
“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
Oh, how unbelievably true that is. Our hearts are walking around firmly attached to our children, and thus are subject to all the emotional bumps and crashes that life brings their way. And if you have a kid with special needs or learning disabilities there will be plenty of bumps and occasional crashes.
What I Worried About
I used to keep a journal, but found I only wrote in it when I awoke at night filled with worry. When I’ve gone back to reread parts of these journals, I saw that I mostly wrote about my kids, and especially my kids with learning disabilities. Would he go to college; would she be able to fulfill her dreams; would they have friends; would he find fulfilling employment; would they be happy.
What I’ve Learned
I don’t pretend to have the answers to how to parent kids who are different or struggle or have special needs, but since mine are older now, I find I worry less. When I awake fast forwarding into the future, I focus on the following thoughts.
- Our fears are often based on what our kids are like right now projected into the future, failing to take into account that our child will grow, mature, and change. Our kids are more resilient and adaptable than we give them credit for—especially when we’re obsessing in the middle of the night.
- We, as parents, adapt to the new reality as our kids age. Hard as it is to believe sometimes, we too are more resilient and adaptable than we give ourselves credit for—again, especially in the middle of the night.
- Technology and medicine will advance, and our kids will be the beneficiaries.
- The world is a big place with room for lots of different skills, talents, and personalities. There will be a place for our precious child.
- Our idea of “success” might and likely won’t be their idea of success, and their idea will probably be realistic to their abilities.
- The really awful things we obsess on can happen, but the truth is most often they don’t.
Good ole Yogi Berra, the source of such unintended wisdom, said it best: “The future ain’t what it used to be.” And I’d add: it ain’t what we’re afraid it’ll be either.
If you are parenting a square-peg-kid in this round-hole-world, how to you control the “what ifs” that attack in the middle of the night?
Other Creating a Family resources you will enjoy:
- What Do We Mean by “Special Needs Adoption” and Should You Consider This Option?
- When Your Child Hates School
- Heartbreaking Reality of Special Needs Orphans in China
- When School is Not Working for Your Child
Add Your Comment
What I would have given to find other parents like me when mine were little. But people tend to focus on “special needs” in a certain way that does not include significantly gifted children. I have never been so alone as I was raising a gifted child who never fit in. Much later we learned about Asperger’s, and found some help, but much too late to avoid some of the pitfalls like bullying and hurt feelings because of social awkwardness. Gifted children come with their own challenges and are as much “special needs” as a child with dyslexia or ADHD.
Great article Dawn. I too keep a ‘worry’ note pad in my bedside drawer where I jot an extemporaneous list when I find trouble sleeping. These are the really stressful days that I find myself doing this. Like you, I can go back a few months later and see that much of my worry has been resolved of their own volition, happenstance or I have a new perspective on the concerns (aka sheer panic!) – Thank you for making us all feel a little more normal while we are navigating our family lives.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Dawn, especially your points about projection and resilience.
Well, if it is “wisdom”, it is hard earned wisdom! 🙂
Just wanted to take a moment and say “thank you” for writing this. I have four children, all with some level of special needs. It is those midnight fears that are so hard sometimes to overcome, but your words of wisdom will be good to remember, and hopefully help me to fall back asleep 🙂
I will print this off and put it by my bed to remind me, the world is usually a good place, my kids are going to grow up and mature, and they will find their place.
Janice, I hear you about the midnight witching hour. I decided to stop writing my fears in my journal since that was the only time I wrote, and I feared the impression they would leave if/when they were read some day. Then I hit upon another technique that worked even better. I wrote all my fears down on a sheet of paper. I wrote mine in the form of a prayer, starting with Dear God, and ending asking for wisdom, patience, and peace. Then I take the paper to the trash can and tear it into tiny pieces. I tell myself that my fears are safely stored in there, and now I am free to leave them there for now and go to sleep. If I’m really worried, sometimes I tuck the paper in a safe keeping place because I’m not ready to let it go yet, but since it’s safely stored I don’t need to worry about it for the rest of the night. The funny thing is that I’m actually not much of a worrier–usually. There is Russian folk saying that I love: The morning is always wiser.