Parenting

What advice would you offer a younger you?

Amy writes a letter to her younger self, as a new special-needs parent

Ever wish you could talk to your younger self?  I wish I knew THEN what I know NOW.  So….here’s my letter to younger me:
—————
 
Dear brand-new “special-needs mom”:
 
You just found out your child has a life-long disability and you’re devastated. That’s OK. You wonder if you’ll ever feel happy again. Or if you’ll ever be able to go for a walk without obsessing about your kid. You will. And disability will be just a part of your child. And just a part of your life. Not all consuming. (Well–not ALL consuming ALL of the time.) You’ll have fun again. 
 
Right now you feel alone–like the only parent on the planet in your boat. Hang in. Another “special-needs mom” will phone you. (She got your number from a friend.) Soon you’ll have a gaggle of “special-mom” friends. Together you’ll escape on weekend getaways, go for lunch and laugh at your kids’ “special interests”. Then you’ll join parent groups and committees. And you’ll connect with fabulous parents and workers and professionals. 
 
Ok sweetie–here’s the bad news. Your child will not get all the treatments and therapies she needs. When new “evidence based” therapies are launched in your community, your child will not qualify. She’ll be too old or too high functioning. You’ll be devastated. But you’ll move through it. Somehow, you’ll figure out how to help your child. You’ll find amazing preschools and schools and therapists.
 
All this advocacy takes a toll. Put YOURSELF on your to-do list. Right now, you have no time to sleep–never mind exercise. But you want to be around for the long haul. Years from now, when your toddler is a curvy teen, you’ll still be slogging through school meetings, practicing speech therapy, advocating for programs, teaching her to wash her hair, to tie her shoes and more. You’ve got to keep strong and sane. So join a gym, try pilates or yoga, and find a counsellor or friend who truly “gets it.”  And please…..don’t wait years to try something you love. Sign up for that dance class or singing  group or wine-tasting……
 
And now, my love, a word of warning. Be careful who you hang out with. You’ll meet special-needs parents who seem to be PERFECT. Their kids have therapy 60 hours a week, eat specialized diets and now are rocket scientists. Every time you’re with these parents, you feel inadequate. Move on. Hang with people who make you feel good. Who don’t judge. Special needs parenting is not a contest. You and your kids do the best you can.
 
And that’s good enough. Over time, your child will change. As a preschooler, she cries and screams and crawls under the table in restaurants. She throws herself on the ground and flails at the playground. Strangers shoot you dirty looks. But hang in. Your daughter will bring you coffee in bed. She’ll clear her dinner plate and unload the dishwasher. She’ll master Facebook and invite a friend out to a movie. Amazingly–she’ll go out on her first date (with gold eye makeup and purple nail polish)! She’ll make you proud. 
 
The Bottom Line? I won’t sugar coat it, honey. Over the years, you’ll need buckets of energy, tenacity, and humour. But as you connect with your kid–as you fight for your kid—you’ll be transformed. In time, you’ll emerge stronger and smarter. And you’ll find beauty in moments that others might take for granted: A snuggle with your kid. Enjoying a movie in a theatre together. Watching your child on stage singing “If you’re happy and you know it.”
 
Hang in sweetie. It’s going to be a wild and wonderful ride. The years will bring tears, tantrums and exquisite joy. Most of all, I promise you this–you’ll never be bored. Your child will be your greatest teacher. Remember all of this and you’ll do great. Gotta go–I’m off to the gym (hunky new Zumba dance instructor!) Keep in touch, OK?
 
Lots of love and hugs, 
Your Older Self
———————–
Your turn: What advice would you give to a younger you?