Read below for a guest post from Carrie Dahlin.
When I first had Laura, and continuing until after Mia was born, I had play dates with other moms, and before I knew it, I put value in our conversations regarding our achievements, or, rather, in the achievements of our children. We would share joy in the fact that our kids walked early or said the cutest thing. Maybe they were able to learn basic social skills and sing their ABCs at an impressively young age. I didn’t recognize how much of my worth as a mom was being drawn from those little milestones.
After a few years, and a few kids later, I was the mom with kids who weren’t meeting their goals as expected, and my days were more consumed with jumping over hurdles than with awing over triumphs. My friends and their kids continued to move forward, and I no longer felt like part of the pack.
Over time I took different approaches to this isolation. At first, I candy-coated our life and didn’t let on about our stresses at home. Then, I became more transparent in order to find someone to relate to, someone who understood. I tried to seek refuge in those around me. However, I may have also been searching for those judging eyes to let me know if I was floundering or not.
I overshared, completely swinging to the opposite side, in search of that perfect middle. People would ask how things were going at home, and I was determined to be real about the situation, whether they asked for the details or not.
Part of being so transparent is that you don’t always get the response you might expect. I made people uncomfortable when they didn’t know how to help. More times than not, I was simply looking for support, not to be fixed, but I was left feeling just as alone, only now with criticizing eyes.
I didn’t want people to judge my children or my parenting, but I was tired of feeling isolated. It was a struggle to discover which people I could confide in. In another effort to find my place, I decided to be casually honest about our family and who we were. It was my attempt to weed people out if they couldn’t handle it.
Having kids with neurobehavioral special needs, often referred to as “invisible special needs,” can be incredibly lonely. People had expectations for my children because they couldn’t see any outward sign to tell them otherwise. It forced me to quickly find confidence in who I wanted to be as a parent and who I should be as a parent.
When I was younger and anticipating motherhood, I had goals and expectations for how I would spend time with my kids. Going to the zoo, cooking and making a mess in the kitchen, play dates, and time at the park were some of the things I wished for. Spending many of my days in waiting rooms and on the phone with therapists wasn’t part of that dream. I was fighting my reality as a special-needs mom, against what I had imagined.
What I didn’t recognize was that I was also teaching my kids to be compassionate when another child was having a hard time learning a new task. I was teaching them to be patient and have good manners out in public as we practiced going from one place to another throughout our week—and we had lots of practice.
It took me years to realize that the hopes I had for my children didn’t have to fit in the perfect little box I tried put them in. I could still read books to them, either on my couch or sitting in the waiting room chairs. I could sing songs with them in the car instead of just silently driving along. I could be purposeful about the time we did have at home and fill our evenings with family time.
Parenting children with neurobehavioral special needs allowed me to realize I was blessed to have learned so much about who I was as a mom, who I hoped to be, and who the Lord wanted me to be.
Without my trials and sleepless nights and countless hours in prayer, I would have never been able to see past those little milestones in which I had invested so much of my worth. Having children with special needs has brought me to a place where I need God every step of the way. Every time I think I can do it on my own I realize that I need Jesus. My kids need me to need Jesus.
This is an excerpt from Carrie’s book, What Led Me to You.
Carrie Dahlin is the author of What Led Me to You: How a mother’s faith and family grew in ways she never expected. She lives near Portland, Oregon with her husband and children. Carrie is passionate about connecting with other foster and adoptive families, especially those raising children with special needs. Carrie often shares what is on her heart on her website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.