I know that the news of your child being born with a disability, or to have him develop a disability through the years, is not the most exciting or joyful experience. There are plenty of tears and questions when this happens. There’s also judgment from others and your own self-culpability.
When a child is born with a genetic condition or is diagnosed with an unexpected life condition, as parents, there’s no way to avoid the typical question: “Why me?”
There are many answers out there. Some answers come from those who believe that God doesn’t make mistakes, while others come from people more pragmatic and often, cruel. But the truth is that as with any other experience, this will be what you make of it.
Nevertheless, when you learn of your child’s disability, you will think things that make you feel like the worst parent in the world. But your feelings are real, as real as the reality of your child with special needs.
Here are four ways to acknowledge your feelings and fears, and turn them into something positive:
1. This is not my dream child. I don’t recognize him.
This is probably not the child that you have been dreaming about during the last couples of months. I know this child may look somewhat, or maybe totally different from your expectations. I know this is not the child who appears on TV commercials for diapers or baby clothes; but guess what? If you believe in him enough to set aside your own prejudice, your child may become a leader with the ability to open doors for others like him and set new standards for beauty and “normalcy.”
The first thing you need to do to start enjoying the experience of raising a child with special needs is to beat your own prejudice. Prejudice is beaten in two ways: Educating yourself about your child’s diagnosis, and finding a positive support group to share the ups and downs of parenting.
Common mistakes we make as parents at this stage:
- We feel such a strong need to conform to society that we focus all our strength in trying to change the reality we are not yet ready for. Take it easy and live day by day. Every day is a new beginning.
2. This child will not be able to do lot of things.
Right! He’ll not be able to do everything, as no child can do everything. But he will have his own talents and will make a future based on his strengths. Every child is unique and different.
The clue is to focus on the abilities instead of the disabilities. Every time you feel down, put aside the goals that the world dictates about perfection, and enjoy the real perfection of accepting others for who they really are.
Common mistakes we make as parents at this stage:
- We want to fix our children to look like everybody else. We feel this is the only way society is going to accept and give them a chance.
The truth is that everything looks different from the moment we accept them. That´s the best example we can give to others.
3. I’m protecting my child from the world. He’s not able to deal with the world out there.
When we use this argument, we make decisions based on our fears. We love this child so much that we don’t want others to hurt him. We don’t want him to realize that there are tons of kids who can do things much better than him, so we try to set an insulated world where he can be happy and not compared to others.
Like everybody else, your child needs and deserves to be exposed to typical experiences to grow up and develop self-esteem. He´ll learn from others and will also find that there are many different ways to do things. Others will also learn from him and will be empowered by his unique way to live and love.
Common mistakes we make at this stage:
- We feel they are too young to start school at the age of 3, so we decide to keep them home.
- We don´t want to force or upset them, so we don’t push them to give their best.
- We focus on the grades instead of rewarding the effort they put at every step.
- We make their lives as easy as possible because we feel they already have enough challenges.
Nothing is really good or bad; everything has the perfect ingredients to challenge us and make us grow. It all depends on how we look at the glass: half full or half empty. We all grow through challenges.
4. I’ll never be happy. I’ll live a life of stress and disappointment.
The most amazing part of raising children with special needs is the ability that this experience has to change our minds and make us evolve as human beings. There’s nothing more special than finding yourself really enjoying the growth of your child and learning lessons on how to make the best of a day. You’ll learn to celebrate simple steps and love your child through every tear and every smile.
I’ll promise you that there will be a day where you’ll look at your child and you’ll ask yourself: How the heck did I ever doubt that this was the perfect child for me?
What is the secret of happiness in parenting a child with special needs? It is not really about how a child looks or what he does to impress others. The real secret is actually the power that love has over us.
It’s not just that love make us see things in a different perspective; it’s that is has the power to transform us.