I’ve been a special needs mom to a princess who rocks an extra chromosome for more than 13 years, and thanks to the miracle of adoption and a red-headed cheese puff who also rocks that extra something, I’ve been a special needs mom to two kiddos for 10 years. Both are non-verbal, and both are a handful of mischief, drama, and constant giggles. Like typical siblings, they fuss with each other (which amounts to grunting back and forth for what seems like an eternity at times). They take things from each other, occasionally pinch one another, and even manage to tell on each other. Picture little man grabbing my hand and pulling me to his big sister, then bursting into tears … while at the same time, big sister rolls her eyes and looks away. Yep. She’s usually guilty.
Neither can take care of any of their needs independently. They rely on me completely. I dress them, bathe them, feed them, put them to bed, and read their minds (at least I try). I talk to them, filling in their quiet with my own version of what they’d probably like to say if they had a voice. Hopey has a high cartoon voice when I speak for her. She thinks it’s hilarious, especially when I roll my eyes, stomp my foot, and act like a true teenage girl. For Charlie, I use a sweet baby voice … because he’ll always be the baby of the family.
We try to agree on music in the car. If I choose a Luke Bryan or Bruno Mars song, we’re always good. But when I step outside the box, they sometimes break down into sobs. We try to agree on clothing choices, but they’ve been known to rip off their clothing just as I finished getting it on their wriggling bodies. Charlie, for added affect, likes to throw his shirt across the room. Uhhhhhm, I guess you don’t like the shirt choice, dude? haha. (Did I mention they are full-on drama?) I can laugh about it now. I mean, c’mon, it’s funny.
The stress level of a special needs mom has been likened to the stress level of a combat soldier. I’m convinced it isn’t necessarily because the role is so difficult, but because special needs moms never feel like they’re doing enough for their kiddos. We question ourselves constantly. Have we provided enough opportunities? Therapy? Education? Are we feeding them too much? Are they exercising enough? Did I remember to double lock the doors so she can’t escape during the night? Is his sniffle worth a doctor’s appointment? Or is the risk of him catching something worse too great for that appointment? And don’t even get me started on how much we worry about our child’s future. Honestly, our minds never shut off.
There was a time when I was so caught up in figuring out how to be a special needs mom that I forgot how to live. Unintentionally, I closed doors on friends and family who’d been in my life for years, because I felt they couldn’t possibly understand my new normal. One day, I awoke to an overwhelming feeling of loneliness and regret. I’d been so laser focused on reaching my two kiddos, that in the process, I forgot that I needed a support system. I felt lost. I thought I was being the best mom in the world. But you know what I realized? If I lose myself, I’m not being the best mom I can be. More than anything else, they need me to be me.
I’d like to say that with this realization came a sweeping life altering shift. As with most change, however, it was slow and steady. I began by hiring a trainer. I felt if I committed to her and to a schedule, I’d stick with it. As it turns out, she became my biggest cheerleader. Not only did she daily encourage me to push through my workouts, as I got to know her, she slowly invaded all of my empty, hurting spaces. She asked me questions about my life. She listened. And she reminded me that I’m enough and that God is always with me. Last year, she challenged me to run a 5K. I ended up running thirteen. She’s been my trainer for four years now, and I count her as one of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. The gym quickly became my community as I met new people. In the process, I became physically stronger. The more fit I became, the happier I felt. My energy increased as endorphins kicked into high gear, I went from a size 8 to a size 4, and then one day I realized I felt like myself again. It had been years.
Around the same time, I decided to open my home once a month to a group of my best buddies for a pizza party and karaoke. They are all so much fun, I knew they’d usher happiness right into my life on a regular basis. And they never disappointed. What I didn’t expect, though, was what a tremendous role their parents would play in my fight. These selfless moms and dads would drop off or pick up their adult children, and instead of walking away, they’d hug me. They’d look me in the eyes and thank me for hosting a party. Sometimes they’d come into the house and chat with me. They made an effort to get to know me and my children. Welcoming me into their lives without any walls, prerequisites, or expectations, they made me feel like a part of their families.
And finally, I became intentional about hiring sitters so that I could get out and do regular things that other moms get to do. I have to say, God really showed off in this area. I was terribly slow to trust others with my munchkins, because remember, I never left them. So it was going to take some super fantastic girls who had a true desire to spend time with Hope and Charlie before I’d be able to leave them. He brought me Nancy, Dana, two Hannah’s, Kelsey, Katie, Bryn, Bethany, and Rikki. I can’t say enough about these girls, who are my superheroes. Each wear their love for my kiddos on their sleeve. They’ve worked tirelessly to break into Hopey’s tiny circle, they’ve tried every trick in the book to get Charlie to eat solid food (at 10 years of age, he still has his food puree’d and put into a bottle), and they’ve recklessly embraced all of me. Whenever I attempt to show them more love and appreciation, they immediately meet we with the same. They’re like beautiful mirrors reflecting everything I have to give right back to me. I treasure them. In every way, they are the hands, feet, and heart of God.
Life is messy. There are times when we wake up and wonder how things became so crazy. Can you relate? But my message is that it’s never too late to make changes. Maybe you’ll be blessed by getting a chance at a re-do. Or perhaps you’re like me, and you’ll have to start all over from scratch. It doesn’t really matter as long as you dig your heels into the dirt and move forward with intention. I began with three simple goals.
- Exercise so I can be healthy enough to raise my kiddos
- Open my home to others
- Hire sitters so I can occasionally get out
I stuck with them, continued to move forward, and my life totally turned around. Not only am I not lonely, my life is filled and overflowing. If I can do it, so can you. What are your three simple goals? Write them down and make a decision to hold yourself to them.
Just my thoughts,