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 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.
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.
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.
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.