You know what they say about assuming…
I used to look at families who adopted children with significant special needs and wonder what motivated them to do so. I assumed they must be extra special souls who were willing to sacrifice everything for children who “no one else wanted.” I assumed that people like me, a first-time mother with little motivation to make life harder for myself by parenting a child with special needs, would never fall into that category.
In the first of many lessons I would learn over the next few years, I soon found out that you can’t judge a person until you’ve walked in their son’s supra malleolar orthosis or taken a ride on their daughter’s therapy swing.
To make a long story short, 4 months after getting our nonspecial needs referral and just days before getting on a plane to Korea, we were informed (via fax) that our son had some pretty significant special needs that had become apparent during our 4 month wait.
One moment I was worrying about missing my 10-month-old’s first steps, and the next moment I was worrying about my 10-month-old ever being able to walk. I was terrified.
As a new reality we were completely unprepared for loomed ahead of us, our expectations were suddenly thrown out the window. After some soul searching and frantic research and armed with only the barest of information but the resolve that we would do whatever it took for this child we already considered our son, we took the leap of faith and flew to Korea to bring him home.
That was just over 2 years ago.
The last 2 years have been filled with constant adjustments of expectations for me and my husband. We’ve been forced to learn patience and humility. We’ve been forced to let go of expectations, over and over again. We’ve had moments of anguish and exhaustion and frustration. We’ve watched other families pass us by on their way to age appropriate life experiences. We’ve stretched ourselves financially and emotionally. We’ve watched our son (the hero in this tale) work harder than any 2 year old should have to work. We’ve watched him be shunned by his peers. There have been tears…from all three of us.
I won’t lie. It has been a hard 2 years.
Yet, we’ve also been able to watch the miracle of development, not the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type we all take for granted, but the hard fought, down and dirty triumphs that come with each new muscle contraction, each new word, each new step, and each new social skill. We’ve experienced utter jubilation at major milestones months and years in the making. We’ve developed a deep appreciation for the little things in life. We’ve had the honor of helping our beloved son as he blossoms into an amazing individual with one heck of a life story.
It’s some seriously mind blowing, beautiful stuff. It's been the best 2 years of our lives.
I don’t want to paint parenting a child with special needs as some secretly amazing, lottery-winning experience that everyone without a child with special needs is missing out on. It’s hard….a lot of the time. For the sake of the children, the decision to parent a child with special needs should not be made lightly or without a serious reality check, plenty of research, and a firm emotional and physical commitment.
"But the truth is that once you take that leap and settle in to find your normal, despite the unconventionality that your normal might end up espousing, it gets easier and more and more satisfying. This new normal becomes a part of you, a part of your child, and a part of your family."
Someone recently told me that I was “meant to be a mom to a child with special needs.” I don’t agree. My husband and I haven’t trudged our way through IEPs and therapy and advocacy and doctors because we inherently knew what to do; rather, as our son’s mom and dad, we simply do whatever we need to do for him. Do we always enjoy it? No way. But is there any parent in the world who doesn’t sacrifice for their child?
Simply put, it’s our reality as our son’s parents. It’s our normal. We found our groove, even though it wasn’t what we had expected going into parenthood, and we are happy. Beyond happy, we are blessed.
If you met my kid, you’d have to agree.
I have found that parenting my child with special needs is no longer a matter of something I must do day in and day out, but rather something I can do day in and day out. That shift in mindset has empowered me and made all the different.
When we decided to adopt a second son, our hearts were eventually drawn to a child on Rainbowkids, not because it was our calling or duty, but because our minds and hearts were open. We now know our strengths and weaknesses and limitations and available resources, and we look forward to the day when our younger son will be home to teach us a whole new set of lessons and allow us to share new challenges and triumphs.
I’m finally starting to understand when I look at the families who seek to adopt children with special needs. They aren’t trying to be saints or have some predisposition for sacrifice; they can simply see through the scary unknown, self doubt, and hard times to the supreme honor and joy of parenting truly beautiful souls. They are embracing their new normal. Isn’t that what parenthood is all about?
Parenting a child with special needs isn’t right for every family, but it can be for many, whether they assume it is or isn’t.
It is for us.