About 5 years ago, I brought my then 3 year old daughter to the Children’s Museum to spend the day with some friends and their children. This day at the museum, like many others, my daughter was not wearing shoes. We had a normal day at the museum filled with fun, laughter, and a couple of meltdowns.
The friends we had gone with were my close ones, and really only, mom friends I had because motherhood can be lonely. That is one of the things that no one told me before children.
Here is the backstory: my daughter is autistic. She has major sensory sensitivities. On the day we went to the museum without shoes, She was still in her I hate shoes faze, which she has since outgrown mostly she still wont wear any shoes they have to be the right ones. I put her in his umbrella stroller and instructed her that if we went to the museum, she would have to stay in the stroller, except in the areas where he was allowed without shoes. Did she stay in his stroller the entire time without problems? Of course not. Would I ever apologize for including my differently-abled child on a trip to the museum, even if it did not go perfectly? also a hard NO.
My daughter sometimes yells too loudly. Gets too dirty when she eats. Trips more easily. Pulls her hair when she does not have words. I love those characteristics that make her the perfect little person that she is. I do not try to force her to talk quietly, stay clean, or walk in a straight line. I try to understand what she needs when she pulls her hair. I give her the limits she needs to stay safe and then I let her be herself.
We get complimented frequently by the professionals we work with for how well we do with her, which is good because we need the validation. As a special needs mom, our children do not get to the “normal” milestones in the “normal” time-frame, so the validation that we are not royally screwing up means a lot to us. And while it is flattering coming from the professionals that work with our kids, it means just as much coming from other moms.
If you are considering what your special-needs-mom-friend needs from you repeat after me: Listen without judgment. Compliment without condensing. DO NOT GIVE ADVICE.
Which brings me to the most important point of this story. Of all the moms who do not appreciate unsolicited advice, even well-meaning advice from friends, I think special needs moms stand alone. We work countless hours finding ways to help our children thrive. To even get them into the correct programs to fit their needs is like swimming through a bowl of alphabet soup collecting acronyms, hardly knowing what any of them mean. My daughter current program 5 years later? daily ABA sessions rotating between RBTs and one BCBA plus therapy.
The advice you read in your favorite parenting magazine, while helpful to you and probably most families, is isolating to the special needs mom. If I could just hide her vegetables in a delicious Pinterest-worthy dish, I would have already done that instead. And I am so glad your potty chart worked for you, but for us, that just didn’t work. Special needs moms have unique challenges and unique triumphs raise your hand if you have cried when your child followed a two-step direction! Whenever you think about giving us advice, I can almost guarantee we have already tried it, and if we have not, there is a reason for that.
The way you parent probably does not apply to a special needs mom. Even special needs moms parent our children in completely unique ways. When you feel yourself wanting to judge, try asking us how we are doing instead. Most of my conversations with adults are with my kids therapists; most of us special needs moms could really use an adult conversation a few times a week. We just want normal friendships, even though it might seem like our life is a little or a lot different than yours.
To all moms, special needs moms and otherwise, let’s stop focusing on what other moms are doing “right” or “wrong” and focus on encouraging and connecting with one another, because being a mom is hard enough as it is, and we could all use a good squad.