Though I will always proclaim (and believe) that my 5 year old is far more typical than not, he hit a very rough patch a couple of months ago. Seemingly overnight, my husband and I were thrown into the true trials and tribulations of special needs parenting. Right before Christmas, we were blindsided by our son’s first complications (due to spina bifida) that required surgical intervention, saw numerous specialists, and ended up traveling to Philadelphia so that he could undergo 3 major procedures in the course of a week.
As he recovered, many people attempted to comfort me with sweet messages and phone calls. Though every single word came from a well-intentioned heart, I’ve got to admit that not every one was comforting. The irony of the situation is that I had uttered some very similar words to my mom friends in the spina bifida community before I realized just how unsettling they can be to a mother who is struggling to keep her head above water.
Here’s my short list of the best intentioned (yet least effective) words of comfort for a special needs parent:
1. God Never Gives You More Than You Can Handle.
Or even worse yet, “God only gives special children to special people.” Neither is true. My husband and I are by no means any more “special” than our friends who are raising typical children. And we have certainly been dealt more than we could handle at times. We’ve learned to cope one day at a time (just like every other parent has).
What to say instead: Your kid is amazing, and a lot of that has to do with what an awesome parent you are.
2. I Could Never Do What You Do.
Yes, yes you could. I am not Wonder Woman (though don’t reveal that to my son…he’d be bummed). Somewhere in between hustling to doctors’ appointments, therapies, and holding down a full time teaching job, I’ve realized that every mama bear is conditioned to do whatever it takes to make sure each of her cubs is well taken care of. Some of use just have a little more to check off that list than others.
What to say instead: I really admire how well you manage everything that’s on your plate. You’re totally rocking this whole motherhood thing.
3. I Was Going to Invite You, But I Didn’t Think You’d be Able to Make it.
Sure I’ve got a lot on my plate, but I also need to get out every once in a while (and my husband and our babysitters are totally capable of caring for my son). Even though I usually can’t make it to the majority of the events I’m invited to, it still feels nice to be asked.
What to say instead: I know you’re busy, so don’t feel obligated, but a bunch of us are going to dinner on Friday. Would you like to come?
4. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.
This one is the hardest for me to address because I KNOW that those who say this legitimately mean it. But most mothers of children with special needs are used to handling our full plates on our own, and we don’t want to burden our loved ones. So even when we do need help, we will very rarely ask for it.
What to say instead: I know you are stretched a bit thin these days, so I want to bring over dinner (or whatever other nice gesture you have in mind). Does Tuesday or Wednesday work better with your family’s schedule?
If you’ve ever said any of the above to the mother of a child with special needs, don’t feel badly and/or take offense to my suggestions. I’ve now been on both sides of the fence and figured I should share my relatively newfound knowledge with those who (hopefully) won’t ever have to be on the receiving end of things. Hopefully these suggestions will someday help you and the mom friends whose spirits you intend to lift.