Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dear Special Needs Mama

Welcome to the March 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With Special Needs
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how we parent despite and because of challenges thrown our way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I'm taking another break from my series on Unconditional Parenting to join this month's Natural Parenting Blog Carnival. This month's theme touches on something rather personal: parenting a child with special needs.

It's a hard and lonely road to parent a high needs child who was also born premature. To some, a child like this may not even qualify as "special needs."

Premature births are almost normalized these days, so it's easy for people to take them for granted. If the child turns out physically healthy, then everything is just fine, right? Unless you've been through it, it's hard to recognize the depth, severity, and lasting effects of the emotional trauma a family experiences when a baby is born premature.

Unless you have a high needs child, it's hard to recognize how isolating and exhausting it is. Because all infants and children are needy, it's also hard to find support or validation for parenting a "high-needs" child. The risk of blaming yourself for the hardship is high. It doesn't matter that your child's intense needs may arise from innate characteristics or be exacerbated by a traumatic birth experience.

If a child has special needs, you can bet that a mama does, too. After twenty-seven sleepless months, I'm still integrating and learning to accept our reality. I'm still working out the how-to's. The upshot is that I'm learning lessons in self-love through this process. Whether or not your child has special needs, I think all mothers deserve a lot more self-love.

So when I thought about this post, I thought about what I would most want to hear from someone on the other side. I decided to write a letter to myself -- and all special needs mamas. Here's what I came up with:

Dear Sylvia,

Be kind and patient with yourself. Coming to terms with a birth experience quite opposite from what you'd hoped, then learning to be a mother for the first time to a baby in the NICU, and then mothering a high needs child without much support are really, really hard things to do. Keep that in perspective.

Give yourself as much time to heal as you need. You have intensely emotional experiences to reconcile, grieving to do, and new found wisdom to plough. Let the process unfold as it will.

Don't compare yourself to others. Each birth story is as unique as the child that came of it. Each child has his own strengths and weaknesses that makes him easier or harder to parent in different ways. What looks easier or more fulfilling for someone else may only be part of the story.

Follow your maternal heart, that guarded and secure place, deep within your soul, that place where the two of you were once connected physically, that place where you and your son return to bond. It will guide you in your decisions and it will help you find peace.

Take care of yourself. It's easy to get lost in the extreme and constant neediness of a high needs child who still feels those pangs of loss and separation. But you are the parent, the guide, and the role model. Your well-being is critical to the process of acceptance, for yourself and your child. Nurture yourself as you do him.

Learn to see your son's strengths in his neediness and heightened sensitivity. You've been given an amazing child with keen insight and perception. Focus on those qualities. Let them lead you out of the funky pits of self-pity, resentment, and exasperation.

Know that your love matters. Although you might not feel strong or patient enough for this journey, know that you are. You're already doing it and doing it well. At the end of the day, whether it's been a good one or hard one, it's your love that matters most.

Your dearest friend and biggest fan,



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 13 with all the carnival links.)


  1. Oh, this was so lovely. I hope someone going through this will read it and feel the love and compassion you have, and I think it must be incredibly healing to be able to give yourself that love as well.

  2. A lovely letter for all of us who mother children with special needs. Thank you for that! I am a part of this Carnival, too. Julie from "What I Would Tell You."

  3. I love this letter - it's so important to recognize that our struggles are valid, our journeys unique. Thank you :)

  4. Yes, yes, love yourself! It is the most important gift you can give your child.

  5. I love that you have realized to not compare yourself to others. I still have a really hard time NOT doing that (especially when I see another mom who seems to "have it all together). Hopefully you have been able to find a community of supporters.

  6. What a beautiful letter! I hope mothers in a similar situation will find and read your comforting letter. And I hope you'll be given all the support you need. Lots of love and hugs, Deb @

  7. I think this is one of the hardest things in the world to do...and probably more necessary than we realize. Thank you for your strength and comfort...

  8. What a wonderful letter. We are so often very hard on ourselves. At least, I know I am.

  9. This letter is awesome. Self care and grace are so important, and they are concepts I wish I would have known about when we first adopted my son, because I went literally crazy from lack of self care, and grace for myself.
    I wish I could have read a letter like this then.