This is Not That: Honest Thoughts From a Special Needs Mom

Last week, I missed my oldest son’s first piano recital because my youngest son wouldn’t go into the auditorium. It wasn’t the first time I missed out on something important or had to leave a special event because he is often inconsolable. It won’t be the last time, either. This is a part of parenting a child with special needs. This is what we signed up for when we asked China if that sweet baby boy could become our son, and we are honored to have this opportunity.

special needs

I could fill up pages and pages on the amazing ways our youngest has blessed our family. Adoption is a beautiful thing and presents important conversations to have as we care for each other and consider the hundreds of thousands of children without families. I wouldn’t change one thing about our family story nor the decision to adopt. 

But this chapter of our story has its share of un-fairy-tale scenes. There is a loneliness that cannot be understood by those who’ve not walked this journey. When I share that “we’ve had a tough morning” or “we didn’t get much sleep last night,” with our special needs child, the response is often “oh, my three-year-old doesn’t sleep well, either” or “all kids act up sometimes.” Their well-meaning comments can feel like a slap in the face. The last thing I need in those moments is for sometime to minimize my experience or normalize it by sharing about their kid’s tantrum the day before.

This is not that

A few nights ago, I dreamt I was searching for a new coffee shop down the street and had my youngest with me. I felt really excited about trying this new spot, but as we walked up to the counter, my son started to whine. I tried to distract him while looking at the menu, but his whining grew louder and louder. Dread crept in as I realized this venture might end with me carrying a screaming child back to my car. Without coffee. I looked down at my son in frustration and saw a massive wound on his chest. I yelled for help and picked him up, spinning around the coffee shop, begging someone to call 911. The tables were filled with people who did nothing. They just watched me as I tried to care for my son. No one picked up their cell phones. No one offered to help. They just sat there, staring back at me with looks of helplessness and pity. Then I woke up. 

The dream was so accurate in how I feel as a mom to my special needs son, it takes my breath away to recall the details. The excitement of trying something new, turned to dread and frustration because my son can’t handle it in that moment, and then the guilt of feeling frustrated, because the reality is he is hurting. And just like in my dream, it often ends with the stares of strangers who feel as helpless as I do. 

My heart breaks for the pain my son feels but has no words for. As his family loves him and cares for him and does everything in our power to help his healing process, there is a cost. Missing my oldest’s recital was especially costly, but we made it through. My oldest and I spent some time together that evening sharing our sadness, and we grew in our relationship. At bedtime, my youngest grabbed my face and said, “I sorry I made you sad mama. I sorry you missed brother’s show.” I hugged him tightly, and whispered that I was so proud to be his mama and that I was so sorry he had hurts, too. In between forehead kisses, I reminded him that we were both brave and strong and safe, and that we would never leave each other, no matter how sad we were. I snuggled him until he fell asleep and prayed that the next day would be easier. 

If you know an adoptive mom or a mom of a child with special needs, please check in with her from time to time. Her Facebook posts may be filled with smiles, but in between some of those photos are hard, lonely, and overwhelming moments. Listen to her tell her stories, and don’t assume her parenting frustrations are similar to yours. Bring her a cup of coffee just because. Offer to babysit so she can get a date night or some breathing room. Be a safe and judgement free place for her to vent and cry and receive care. She needs you. 

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