by Jan Hatchett
When we were adopting our oldest son (and again when expecting our youngest), the most common piece of advice that we received was: “Watch out, because a baby changes everything!” I honestly couldn’t imagine why people would tell us that. We were older than most first-time parents (I was twenty-nine and hubby was thirty-two), but we were intelligent and stable, having already been married for ten years. Other than the reality of what caring for a child would entail, I couldn’t imagine that my husband and I (or our relationship) would be changed dramatically by becoming parents.
Boy, was I wrong!
From the instant that I first held our hours-old son, my entire world changed—for the better, but change it did. Life in the early days revolved almost exclusively around my little family. After years of infertility, my family was complete. It was unlikely that we would be able to afford another adoption and even more unlikely that I would become pregnant.
Surprise! Seventeen months later I delivered a healthy baby boy. Now I was the mother of two sons under the age of two. Having been an only child until I was twenty-eight (when my parents adopted my brother, who was six years old), this whole idea of siblings was a novelty … well, a novelty until our oldest screamed so loudly from jealousy (that his Mommy was holding a baby in the hospital) that he had to leave!
Our Special Needs Child
Fast forward nine years and our precious oldest son was diagnosed with autism. Again, the world utterly changed as I felt like the entire foundation of life was being yanked out from underneath our family. Six years later, when this same son received an epilepsy diagnosis, we felt that familiar shakiness that comes with parenting through the unknown. By the time we learned that his epilepsy was intractable (or not able to be adequately controlled by medication) we were becoming old hands at this.
We have learned to become advocates for our children and also for ourselves. We have also learned a few tricks along the way to help us find balance when we need it most. Here is how we find our balance parenting a child with special needs.
Embrace the “New Normal”
Look for moments or episodes of predictability and rely on them.
Odd as it may sound, learning that the vast majority of my son’s seizures looked the same and lasted approximately the same length of time made it much easier to live with them. It kept me from running through, “What if …?” questions in my mind and further frightening myself. This is one of the most helpful ways to improve parenting a child with special needs.
Learn All You Can About Each Situation You are Face
Having as much information as possible makes even an unusual turn of events easier to manage. If nothing else, it helps you to identify what is happening and what assistance you may need to acquire.
Adjust Your Standards
Let your priorities dictate what really needs to happen in order to keep things running smoothly enough. Maybe it’s time to bring in someone to deep clean for you occasionally, so you are not overwhelmed and can give your best to your child’s care.
Learn How to Ask for Help (and how to graciously receive it)
You will require help, even if you hate the idea of needing it. Let grandparents keep your child for the weekend so that you and hubby can get away for a bit and be yourselves. Nobody can maintain the role of special needs parent for extended periods without feeling a bit battered from time to time. Even an afternoon away for lunch or a cup of coffee with a friend or your spouse can help to ease stresses and create balance.
When Someone “Gets” your Special Needs Child’s Quirkiness, Embrace Them!
These people will be your lifeline and help you gain perspective when you have moments when you can’t see anything but the negatives in your life. These wonderful people will help you keep going when times get tough. Cherish them!
Make Sure Your Spouse Knows they are a Priority
Make a concerted effort to spend time together. Divorce rates are higher than average among families with special needs children and part of that reason is that so much energy is expended caring for the children that very little time is spent maintaining a healthy marriage. A loving spouse can be your greatest ally and support.
As the parents of special needs children, we have been called to a task that can feel insurmountable. Creating a sense of balance is not only possible but quite necessary for your wellbeing and that of your family.
Jan Hatchett is a Christian wife and homeschooling mom of two amazing sons. She enjoys log cabin living, writing, quilting, crafting, sewing, reading, and horseback riding. For more of Jan’s exploits, check out: www.anotherhatchettjob.wordpress.com.