A while ago, I had one of those really hard days as a mother of children with special needs. I had taken Paul and Matt for an evaluation for some summer therapy. As a parent of children with special needs, I had started to think that my children had come to a good place and I felt content about where we were.
Then I had one of those moments of reality, where all of their deficits were all too apparent.
Paul was running around in circles and very uncooperative. He didn’t want to do anything the therapist asked him to do. I saw how many motor planning issues he still needed to work through and that he still struggled to cross the midline. Even though we did years of occupational therapy when he was younger, we just didn’t do as much as he got older. He was generally functioning so much better and he was doing amazingly well, especially for where he had come from. But in that moment, I saw how far he still has to go. It was so overwhelming.
The tears started to flow as soon as I got in the car. I tried to say a few positive things to Paul as he sat in the back of the van, but I was completely overwhelmed. I had a babysitter waiting with the other kids at home, so I had to try to keep myself together. I took a few minutes to cry and got through the rest of the day by going through the motions, but I had such a heavy feeling in my chest. I carried the burden of wondering how I would ever be able to give my son enough attention to help him work through all the things he still struggles with. And how could I ever balance the needs of all of my children and his need to have time to still be a child?
As my mind tried to work through the heaviness I felt, I decided that when the kids went to bed I would make a list of all the things that I am grateful for because I am a mother of children with special needs. I have heard so much about the difference a gratitude journal can make, but I have had a hard time being consistent in recording my gratitude. As I thoughtfully made the list, the tears came easily. It is a hard, painful journey at times. But as I finished my list, I realized that the heavy feeling was gone. I felt at peace.
Some of the things I wrote are too personal to share, but I wrote about how I have learned to be less judgmental of other children and parents. You never know what quiet struggles others might be dealing with that lead them to the one moment you might witness at the store. I wrote about how I think I am a better person because of what I have been through with my children. I don’t think I would be as deliberate in my parenting as I have had to be to help my children through their challenges. I have a stronger marriage because we have to work together to really meet the needs of our children. I have witnessed so many little miracles, showing me that God is on this journey with us. He wants these children to reach their full potential too, whatever that potential might be.
These are things I don’t think I could have learned any other way. Sometimes it would be nice to be able to take away even just a few of the hard things my children have had to face. But I know that I needed these experiences so that I could learn to be a better person.
Dieter Uchtdorf, a leader in our church, said:
It might sound contrary to the wisdom of the world to suggest that one who is burdened with sorrow should give thanks to God. But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding.
Since that night, I have tried a little harder to take the time to be grateful so that I can have that healing, peace, and understanding that I need to keep moving forward on this journey with my special needs children.