5 Gifts of Parenting Children with Special Needs

by Melissa Longshore

I wanted to share a secret today. It is a secret that is shared silently among those who have children with challenges or disabilities. It is one of many secrets that contribute to what makes us amazing.

melissaToday, I want to share with all who are starting this journey the following: when you confront challenges, just know that you will not do so alone. You will be given gifts to take along your journey. Treasure these gifts because they are simply amazing. They are worth the challenge and hold value beyond measure.

Others outside of the special needs community are oblivious to these gifts and would have difficulty wrapping their minds around the notion that you can derive something so incredibly positive from watching your child overcome. Yes, it is difficult to watch someone you love struggle to meet milestones that come easily to others. I would give any amount of money to not have to watch my child endure such challenges. No, being a parent to a child with special needs isn’t for the faint of heart. We are a special breed, indeed.

However, I relish the gifts that come from being the mom of a child who has struggled to meet milestones. It is one of the many paradoxes of being such a parent. The truth is that when much is required, much is also given. Anything worthwhile is challenging, and being the parent of a child with special needs is both challenging and worthwhile. Plus, the greater the challenge, the greater the reward is.

I want to share just a few of the amazing gifts I gained.

1. The Power of Can’t

It may sound crazy, but I am thankful that I have the “can’ts” of life so I can better appreciate the “cans” of life. I am the mom of two children with disabilities and I have heard the word “can’t” mentioned many times. It is usually accompanied with its constant friends “never” and “won’t.”

At first, when I heard the word “can’t” I was hurt and angry because I could not understand why the person assessing my boys couldn’t see the amazing little boys that I did. However, over time, I have learned that “can’t” is only one person’s opinion of what you are capable of doing or becoming. It is just that–an opinion–and not an expectation of where you will be or what you will do, unless you invest in that word.

Some of the “can’t” in our lives has come to fruition. Yes, Noah is not a tree climber. But it has been my experience that we all have “can’ts” in our lives. I will never run a marathon, not because I am not capable of running, but because I don’t have the desire to run unless I am being chased by a mountain lion.

However, it has been my experience that there is a gift that comes with the “can’ts” of life. When you achieve a milestone that you were not supposed to achieve, the highs are just a little higher, and that is the gift of the “can’t.” You see, when your child says his first word or takes his first step as an infant you call Grandma and take pictures, but if your child takes his first steps at the age of nine, it is a hold-your-breath moment–nothing could be more amazing.

The reality is the process of walking holds no fascination for most parents when their child is nine years old. After all, that is what is expected. However, if your child takes his first steps at three, seven, or nine, the process of walking never loses its awe. I can stop and watch an infant chew and always be amazed, because Noah can’t do that. And, when Noah told me that he loved me for the first time after having gallbladder surgery, that turned one of the hardest moments of my life into one of the best. In just one moment, the power of “can’t.” I am so blessed to have that in my life.

2. The Beauty of Being

Outside the world of special needs, much is made over what you can do, what you have (your earthly possessions), and what you will achieve. Your value as a human being is directly tied into those attributes. “What do you do?” is usually one of the first questions people will ask you when they meet you.

There is something about being a parent of a child with special needs that erases all those questions and places importance on where it should be–just being. Those questions hold less value to those in the special needs world. We see the amazing in not what you have or what one is capable of achieving. We place value on a child’s mere presence. The fact our children overcame great odds just to be present holds value. All else pales in comparison.

“Are they happy?” usually holds more value in the heart of a parent of a child with special needs than anything else. You will come to the point in your journey that you appreciate your child for who he or she is, disability and all. You will appreciate the simple things like a smile. You will see value in every milestone, whether small or great. Yes, you will get how monumental the smallest of things are.

I really don’t believe many people see how powerful the small is. How one small action can be huge in another world. I get it because I have lived it. We all don’t live on a level playing field, and some people’s amazing can be wonderfully small. That is a powerful mentality, and I am so blessed to have that in my life.

3. Belief in the Impossible

You will be the same as other parents, with the same hopes and fears, but you will be undeniably different. It will be as if your complete DNA has been changed. It is as if you were given special glasses to see the world differently with the birth of your child. Those special glasses color everything you see.

You will believe in the impossible. You will realize that you must be an active participant in your child’s potential. So, you will look at a mountain of challenges and think to yourself, “It can be done. It is possible. We will overcome.” A thousand physicians, psychologist, therapists, or educators may call it an impossibility. However, if one parent of a child with special needs believes in her child, anything is possible.

I have personally seen children overcome immeasurable odds to surprise many educated individuals because of one determined parent. No one will research like a concerned parent. This colors how we parents look at everything in life. Say NO to a parent of a child with special needs and see what happens. I can assure you that it will not be pretty.

We special needs parents look at challenges as opportunities in disguise. When one door shuts, we start looking for a window. All it takes is a small sliver of hope and the possibilities are limitless. This is not to say that your child will achieve every goal that you set, but I can say he or she may achieve some that no one believed possible–except you. That tenacity is a gift, and I am so blessed to have that in my life.

4. Gaining Community

You often hear in the world of special needs about people losing disingenuous friends because of the difficulty of maintaining friendships. However, it has been my personal experience that for every friendship that has dissipated due to the stressors of having a child with a disability, I have gained two new friendships.

These friends are “shiny” friends. One of the biggest gifts that my sons Noah and Ethan have given me is the ability to meet “shiny” people. These people have just that extra wonderful something that makes them shine above the traditional individuals you meet along the way. I include in this group those individuals who choose to help individuals who have special needs, not because they have to, but because it is their calling. I am blessed to call so many of these individuals friends.

Furthermore, I have met so many parents of children just like mine who live life to the fullest and become close dear friends. Our children have grown up together online. I am blessed to be a part of such a global special needs community. I believe my global world is in some part because of my boys’ challenges, and I find that there is a blessing to every storm.

These friends are most certainly one of my greatest blessings. The ability to confide in such a wonderful vast group of knowledgeable people is priceless. We are extremely diverse, yet share an integral common thread, which revolves around our children. I think often if my boys had not developed cerebral palsy, most likely I would probably live in an egocentric world with just the people around me. The fact that my friendship circle has grown globally expands my horizons in untold ways and is a blessing. It is a gift. Treasure your community.

5. Treasure Differences

Lastly, I know without a doubt that I experience amazing moments more than most. Things that don’t happen to the typical mother. For example, when Noah was about four years old I was at the mall and encountered a group of tough, young guys. I immediately lumped this group of boys into that category just by the way they were dressed and the way they were acting. As fate would have it, my boys–Noah in his wheelchair and Ethan–blocked these boys’ path to a store. The leader of this group stopped and everyone behind him stopped, too, as if on command. So, here we were facing each other, two very different groups of people. Then, the leader of the group looked Noah over head to toe. In my mind, I went on high alert because I was fearful he was going to say something negative to Noah, and I had no idea how I would react to that.

Then the boy in the front says to Noah, “Hey, little man.” What?!!! Miracle of miracles, Noah waved at the tough looking individual, actually raising his hand. We all laughed until our sides hurt. It was so funny. When I look back, I see these rough and tough young guys connecting to Noah and my middle aged self.

I thought to myself…that is the power of Noah. He is the catalyst for opportunities like this. Never would I have ever spoken to these guys in a million years, and I can most certainly assure you that they wouldn’t have spoken to me. However, on that particular day, our paths literally crossed. Yet, strangely, we all connected through Noah. They gave me a nod like I had been accepted into their group. It was as if those who are different–those who are judged–identify with his struggle and that becomes a bridge between our worlds.

That is a gift and I love it. It makes me a better person. It reminds me how we are all different and we all have gifts despite our outwardly appearances…tough guys at the mall…minivan-driving mama…little guy in the wheelchair. I am so lucky that I get to experience moments like these, not occasionally but often. My boys’ presence allows me to see the very best that humanity has to offer. I stand by as a spectator and soak up those rays of sunshine. That is gift.

I say to you to appreciate your gifts. These are just a few of mine. My hope is you will experience more gifts than I have. Take those gifts inward and dwell upon them. If you happen to perchance stumble upon someone giving you a look of pity or sadness, smile knowingly, because that individual has no idea about the gifts you have been given. Try hard not to pity them because they travel lightly. They may be broken and not possess the ability to see you or your child fully. Just know, you travel heavy but carry many gifts. Treasure your journey.

Author: Melissa Longshore • Date: 2/11/2015

About the Author

Melissa Longshore is mom to twins, Noah (moderate/severe cerebral palsy) and Ethan (mild cerebral palsy), who are nine years old.

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