So you're new to becoming a parent of a child who is 'different'...
Here are 3 thoughts I have that I have come to learn, accept and embrace along my journey that might help.
1. You're allowed to grieve.
Grief is a strange term to use, I guess, but it is one that is so real. When you find out you are expecting a child, you imagine so many things. You have dreams of what life will be like as a family, hopes for what it may look like, what things they will do, how you imagine you'll raise a child. You remember your own childhood and imagine repeating certain parts of it or changing things to make it something amazing for your own children.
And then your child comes into this world and not only is it a shock to your system to actually be a parent yourself, you find out that your journey was not at all what you thought it would be. Suddenly, or even as a slow process, some of those dreams are altered or shattered altogether.
Instead of playing happily at the park with your child, you're attending specialist appointments. Instead of watching your child perform their kinder songs with the other children, you're the parent trying to get them to stop running around or come out from hiding in the corner. Instead of seeing your child accept an award for a sporting event, you're at home in their safety zone because sport isn't something your child can handle at all. Instead of saying goodbye to your child at the classroom and leaving for home or work, you're still in the car park dealing with a meltdown and have no idea how long you'll have to be there today.
For those who have not experienced this, it can sound somewhat trivial, but for those of us who are stuck in it, it can be hard to get out of bed in the morning because you don't know what challenge you're going to face today.
It really is ok and healthy to grieve for the life you thought you would have. It is ok to say you're sad and struggling. It doesn't mean you don't love your child or that you will stay grieving forever, grieving for the parts of parenthood you won't have or that have changed makes it a little easier to move past that and learn to navigate the parenthood you DO have
2. You're always learning.
As with all kids, you learn new things at each stage of their development. When you are parenting a child who has additional needs though, you are learning more than you thought you ever would.
You research constantly, you read and read until you can't read anymore, you learn from others's experiences and you learn a lot through trial and error.
Think of when you were teach your child to sleep. You will speak to one person who swears by sleep training using timing down to the minute. Someone else will tell you not to time things but only watch for your own child's 'tired signs'. Others may say the only way to do it is with co-sleeping. Another person will tell you nothing works and just embrace the fact you'll never sleep again.
No parent ever gets everything right. There is no rule book. Even when you read a lot about specific conditions your child may have, the information is still not factoring in your individual child. For example, you can read every book ever written about children with Autism, but your child is still unique and not everything will pertain to you or your child.
It is really important to remember that just because your child may have a specific diagnosis, it does not mean that one line of thought or one person's perspective is the only one to follow. It's important to take pieces of information and advice from lots of different places, use what works and let go of what doesn't. Sometimes you find that years later, something you tried that didn't work suddenly does!
The best place you can learn though is directly from your child. After all, it's their life and you are their guide, their safe place, the place they will always find love. We can offer all we can to them to help them flourish but the goal is always to do what helps THEM, not just what a book says should help them.
3. Find your tribe.
Being a parent can often be lonely no matter who you are or what your kids are like. But it can be particularly lonely when your child faces challenges that most others do not.
When all the other parents are talking about what high school to send their kids to and talking about how one has an amazing sports program their child will love and another is a prestigious arts college, you might be sitting there wondering if the school has any sort of capability to cater for your child at all. You might be the one who is looking into specialist schools or when your child doesn't fit into that category but also doesn't quite fit into mainstream schooling, you might not even have a clue where to start.
Or in primary school when your child never gets invited to a birthday party and their own birthday is coming up and you can't think of anyone to invite to it...
These are moments when you need a tribe.
I was extremely fortunate that when my eldest was at primary school, I found some wonderful people who also had children who needed extra support of some kind. By reaching out to each other, we found an amazing group of parents and their wonderful children who would be there for each other in so many situations. They may not have all played together during the school day but we were always there for each other. Suddenly birthday parties were filled with friends and after school times, we could spend some time all together and their day could end on a positive note while us parents leant on each other. We found people who loved our children for who they were, who we could cry to after a stressful school drop off, who we could debrief with after a meeting or specialist appointment, who we could bounce ideas off and share strategies with and who we know we could trust to look out for our children too.
Although we moved schools, most of these people have remained huge supporters of me and my kids. And I can look back on those times with such a warm feeling knowing during those hardest times, we were so blessed to have them in our lives.
At the end of the day, having a child who is different, who struggles with things, who isn't 'typical' IS challenging. It is also incredibly rewarding, it changes who you are as a person too. But it doesn't define them and it doesn't define you.
You're not horrible for grieving, you aren't failing because something you tried didn't work and you don't have to walk this journey alone.
"What makes a child gifted and talented may not always be good grades in school, but a different way of looking at the world and learning".
- Chuck Grassley
~ Nicole xx