When We Blame Parents Of Children With Special Needs

When we blame parents of children with special needs, we lose sight of what parenting is like for all of us. We do the best we can. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we don’t, special needs or not. 

Since the day my first baby was born, I have felt responsible for my children’s differences.

Not responsible in the “I’m the mom so I need to help my child” kind-of way (although I certainly feel that too).

Responsible in the “Why do you let him sleep with you instead of in the crib, eat the ice cream instead of the meat, allow him to make the mess, and help him in the bathroom when he is almost ten” kinda-of way.

I have been blamed, at one point or another, for every single one of my boys’ differences. Moreover, as we have received diagnosis after diagnosis, I find the blame comes even more frequently now – not less.

When We Blame Parents Of Children With Special Needs

When they were younger, well meaning teachers, doctors, family members and friends would regularly make comments about my parenting abilities. It was as if having a different child necessitated their remarks.

I vividly remember being berated by a couple of friends, when my oldest son was three.  We had gone out to dinner, and I was not able to relax knowing my son was at home without me. (I didn’t know it at the time, but hypervigilance is real and very difficult to escape after just 30 minutes away.) When we returned that evening, the couple stayed for a drink. My little boy was screaming at the top of his lungs, choking and gagging. The babysitter, haggard and undone, handed him to me and told me he had been doing it since I left, two and a half hours prior.

As I headed upstairs to help him calm down and finally get some sleep, I heard the comments whispered behind me in my own living room.

If she didn’t spoil him so much.”

“He needs to learn independence.”

“She is going to ruin that child.

My son and I both cried ourselves to sleep that night.

When We Blame Parents Of Children With Special Needs

More than ten years later, I am sorry to report that it’s even more intense.

Because my children now have diagnoses, it seems more urgent. Mostly, it comes in the form of questions. It’s not as overt, but it is blame just the same.

What if he never learns to read?

How is he going to be functional in the “real world” if you don’t put him in a public school?

Are you worried about his diet?

If you keep helping him in the bathroom, how is he ever going to be independent?

I am asked questions like this almost every day.

Sometimes by doctors, sometimes by therapists, sometimes by friends, and sometimes, even by my own husband.


What It’s Like To Parent Children With Special Needs

I struggle all the time with the line between spoiling my children and accommodating their needs.

I worry every day about the choices I’ve made – to homeschool, to attend certain therapies vs. others, to use medications to help with my sons’ crippling anxiety, to help him get dressed when his body hurts, to allow him to type instead of using a pen, to stay with him at night when he is having a panic attack, to buy another pair of crocs instead of forcing him to wear socks, to allow him to progress more slowly through a reading curriculum, to let him fall asleep with me.

I worry about being a good mom. I think every mom does.

I pray for wisdom in all these decisions – the big ones like educational choices, and the little ones like allowing him to eat in his room instead of at the table.

When you blame parents of children with special needs, you should know, I am doing the absolute best I can to help my children… and most of the time, it feels like I am choosing from what seems like two bad choices.

It’s never black and white, right or wrong, spoiling or accommodating.

Sometimes, I get it right.

Sometimes, I don’t.

Mothering my children is just doing the best I can, every day.

When You Blame Parents Of Children With Special Needs

Yes, there are some parents that are unusually neglectful, spoiling, and unhealthy.

Yes, I do want to know if there is something I am missing, or some way to help my child that I haven’t considered.

Yes, it is good to have others speak into our lives.

But please hear me, it is never beneficial to make a mother feel ashamed of what she considers to be one of the most important relationships in her life.

It never helps a child to decrease his parent’s confidence and decision making abilities.


If you are genuinely concerned about something going on with any parent, and especially one with a child that has special needs, ask yourself this –

Do I honestly believe he has never considered this bit of advice I am about to offer?

If the answer is no, then don’t ask the question, offer the solution or even approach the topic.

If you really think a parent is “causing” some sort of behavioral issue in a child, ask yourself this –

Do I honestly believe she has never considered her own role in this? Even if the answer is no, will making her feel ashamed help?

Then don’t ask the question, offer the solution or even approach the topic.

Just don’t. 

What do I think you should do instead?

Pick the one thing you admire about the parent and say it.

“I love how in tune you are with your daughter.”

“You amaze me. You are so patient with your little guy.”

“I see how hard you are working.”

Say the good things out loud.

Say them all the time.

Say them even when you feel strange, uncomfortable or embarrassed.

If you really want to help parents living with a child that has special needs – encourage them and show them they are not alone.

A few weeks ago, a sweet friend sent me a Christmas gift. The card simply said, “Dear Shawna, You are doing it right. Every Day.”

I kept it.

I read it all the time.

Not because I think I never make mistakes, or mess up, or spoil my kids.

No, I read it all the time because it reminds me that although I get it wrong, a lot, I also get it right.

Her words make me want to try harder, figure it out, clean up another mess, schedule another appointment, push my son when he needs it, cuddle with him when he doesn’t, and fight the tooth brushing battles.

Encouragement makes me a better mom.

Blame never, ever does.


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  1. December C. says:

    Two things: Prayer for sure. Keep that last friend!?

  2. I went to counseling a few years back for anger that I was just not controlling. At the end of one of the sessions, the counselor said something to the effect of “You are a good parent to your children”. I was taken aback–no one had ever said this to me. Not that they had ever called me a bad parent, but if you don’t hear the good, eventually you start to believe the opposite. It brought me to tears.
    A few months ago, my sister, one of the best parents I know, told me she couldn’t do what I did–parent a SN child–and that I amazed her. Again, the tears. We so badly need to hear the good stuff when all we do is question every single decision we make.

    1. So very well said, Tina.
      “We so badly need to hear the good stuff when all we do is question every single decision we make.”

  3. Thank you! It’s a good reminder for all of us to remember to always lift and encourage. I know I worry more than anyone about all those challenges that face my family each day. I pray that we are on the right path and yet know that even the right path is going to be hard. Thank you for the encouragement! You really are doing an amazing job!

  4. Thank you!!!

  5. I, too, know the hurt feelings when people make comments about my choices as a parent. We homeschooled, tried medicine, stopped medicine and tried it again, chose to not go out of town without our children, changed doctors, etc…….for years. My kids are now 31 and 27. We are still very much a part of the older one’s life because of his inability to all things in the “typical” fashion. But we have also come a long way from that first of many diagnoses. It wasn’t easy then and it’s still not easy. But I wouldn’t change any of our efforts for him despite what others have said. After many years of comments, people are finally “getting it” and some of the comments have turned around to positive reinforcement. I’ve never told others how to do their jobs and I expect the same respect from them. Spend more time with the positive people. It will make a world of difference.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I am so encouraged by your words.

  6. Yes, YES, YES YES YES to all of this.

    I would add a couple of questions for people who “just want to help” to ask themselves: Can I trust God with this hard situation? How much is my own anxiety leading me to give advice or other “helpful” comments?

    I find that people say unintentionally hurtful things (blame etc.) when they want to fix a situation. Their anxiety is relieved by their words. Or perhaps more accurately, they transfer their anxiety to the other person.

    The good side to the painful comments, I think, is that it reminds me to turn to God alone for affirmation/approval. And I know, Shawna, that he is so proud of you! He chose YOU to be their mother. I’m so grateful he doesn’t expect any of us to parent perfectly — just to love and do what we can, mistakes and all.

    And wow, blessings to you for getting the negative comments and yet putting yourself out there on a blog, of all things: exposing yourself because it helps others. Yay, you!

    1. You made my whole day, Kristi. Thank you and you are 100% right. The more negative comments I receive, the more I find myself leaning into Jesus – wanting what He wants instead of all the blame and shame.
      Grateful for you!

  7. Christel king says:

    Has your child been checked for lyme? I never would have thought my son had it as he had never been bit by a tick but come to find out congenitally from me. I had Lyme disease and apparently it went untreated. I had a dr. Visit every child with autism in his practice at tested positive I thought I’d be the one to prove him wrong. When we address the underlying condition, Lyme disease, a lot of the symptoms that made life difficult like sleep, being more independent changed

  8. Ryan Fluharty says:

    Loved your post, like I always do. I feel like this goes for every parent, for every type of child. Most of the time, we are just doing the best we can. Love u, Ryan

    1. Well said sweet friend. Love you!

  9. Thank you for saying this ‘out loud’. Your words, your feelings and your experiences are all Very Familiar to me, as the parent of two special needs teens. Just thank you.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Susie.

  10. I want so badly to feel a sense of solidarity with other SN moms, but I just don’t. This post is completely foreign to my experience. Most people who know us are very vocally complementary. Even his therapist and psychiatrist.

    I do identify with the feeling of straddling the fence between catering to their issues and discipline but that’s it.

    I just don’t know.

    1. I think that’s wonderful, Becky! Having support makes so much of a difference.

  11. Lynn J Nye says:

    This is so true. I am a retired foster parent with one last child in the home. We’ve parented 19 children and the last treasure is more difficult, challenging than all of the others combined. The healthiest of them has always struggled with anxiety and depression. I have education in OT, child development and elementary education, as well as all that life experience. I am turning 60, hubby 65. We still struggle and second guess and feel inadequate and wonder if we are doing the best we can in our ongoing battle.

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