The day-to-day experience of us parents raising children with cognitive, learning, emotional and/or physical disabilities is different in so many ways from parents raising children who are typically developing.
Depending on the intensity of a child’s needs, parents may be the primary caretakers of bathing, feeding and toileting; the dispenser of medication; the person responsible for carrying out home-based therapies and implementing behavior plans and also the advocate fighting for your child’s educational placement.
Then holidays come around—and the expectations about what those holidays are supposed to look and feel like can trigger a heightened awareness of how different special needs parenting is. Mother’s Day, for me, used to be especially loaded—in the early days of my son’s autism diagnosis, I felt isolated from friends and family raising typically developing kids and unsure of how to create meaningful rituals and celebrations for my family.
Fortunately, by creating a strong network of fellow parents going through similar experiences to mine and through my process of learning to embrace and appreciate my unique parenting experience, I was able to transform my expectations of Mother’s Day to create a holiday that feels truly meaningful for me. I spoke to other moms raising kids of all abilities to find out how they make their Mother’s Day meaningful and below I am happy to share some of the collective wisdom of our experience. Please share with a mom who might appreciate these ideas and share how you’ll be spending Mother’s Day in the comments below:
• Think Ahead: Because we parents can get so caught up in the day to day demands, a holiday like Mother’s Day can sneak up on us. Take time this week to imagine the way that you’d like to spend your day and if you need to make some arrangements for childcare, reach out to family for help or make a reservation, do it now so that you’ll be able to enjoy the day.• Avoid busy restaurants: For kids who have short attention spans or sensory challenges, waiting for brunch in a crowded restaurant is potential trigger for a meltdown. Encourage your partner or a friend to pick up delicious pastries or other treats that you can eat at home. My husband and I have the tradition of getting a sitter and going out for a quiet dinner together, just us, on Mother’s Day evening when restaurants are more quiet.• Spend Time alone: Many moms I spoke to said their greatest gift is simply taking some time alone. Some moms book a massage or other self-care appointment; some read a good book, take a walk or just enjoy a few unscheduled and unstructured hours.• Spend Time with a friend: Similarly, many moms expressed that it’s hard to make time to spend with friends without kids in tow—but doing that so really recharges their spirits. Mother’s Day with a dear friend—even if you can get away for an hour or two—is the top choice for many moms.• Sleeping: Great for every parent but especially cherished for parents whose children have ongoing sleep issues. If you have a partner who can cover the morning routine, savor staying in bed as long as you can! Or take time for an afternoon nap…• Look at Photos from the year: One mom I spoke with likes to give herself the time of looking through family photos from the last year—and taking time to recognize the ways in which her children have grown—socially and emotionally.• Plant and enjoy the outdoors: Many moms have discovered that planting flowers is something that the whole family can do together—and can become a great seasonal tradition. Other moms love simply being outdoors—hiking, walking dogs, going to an accessible playground with their kids.• Savor gifts from kids: I have a collection of painted flower pots on my windowsill that my son’s teachers have helped him to create for me over the years. Whether your kids create a card or other gift at school or with the help of a family members, many moms say that the moment of opening that gift from their child is a moment that they look forward to from year to year.• Write and Reflect: As extra busy parents, it’s hard to take time to reflect on our hopes, dreams, challenges, fears and blessings. On Mother’s Day, I like to write a letter to myself about what I’ve learned as a mom over the year. I’ve recently created a journal for parents on the special needs journey that gives you prompts to write and reflect. Great gift for Moms!• Take a social media fast: Even while the moms I spoke with have embraced their lives with strength and gratitude, many acknowledged that seeing pictures of “perfect” families can be painful. We all know that Facebook and Instagram don’t show the fullness of anyone’s life—all of the joy and anguish. But if you recognize that scrolling through social media can be a trigger—take a fast from it on Mother’s Day. Healthy for all of us to do from time to time!
I am wishing all of the moms, grandmas, aunties and great women who help raise children a wonderful Mother’s Day!