What Being a ‘Special Needs Mom’ Has Taught Me About Just Plain Being a Mom

I was chatting with a younger momma recently who asked me to share some tips and tricks for motherhood. She said she thought our life and all its crazy might have taught me a few things she could apply in her life as well — with or without special needs.

You know what? She’s absolutely right. Most of the lessons I’ve learned and the tips I share have more to do with just plain being a momma. So for her and for any of you, here is my list:

What I’ve Learned About Motherhood (So Far)

1. Always carry baby wipes – in your car, in your purse, wherever, no matter how old your kids are.

2. There is always a reason for unexplained behavior (and it’s usually not time for the exorcist). Slow things down a bit. Observe. Ask questions. Get some time alone with the child in question. You’re the momma. You’ll start to figure it out.

3. Get to know other mommas. Ask them real questions, even if you feel silly. Other moms can be our greatest resource.

4. Reading books together is fun — so are movies together as a family. Both make memories, so don’t feel bad about the media or beat yourself up about the chapter you missed.

5. When your child says, “I think I am going to throw up,” always, always, always grab a big bowl. As they get older, they will try and make it to the bathroom, and they will very rarely actually make it.

6. Meals happen every single day, three times a day. You might as well accept it and come up with a plan instead of being caught off guard at four every day (or every morning at eight or every afternoon at noon if you’re like me…ahem).

7. Sometimes, that plan might be scrambled eggs or cereal. It’s still a meal.

8. Carry snacks. Again, no matter how old your kids are, carry snacks.

9. When your child wants to snuggle just a little longer, snuggle. When you worry about spoiling your child because you snuggle them so much, please know there will come a time when snuggling with you is the last thing they will ever want to do. Snuggle now. Snuggle long. You will miss it.

10. The same thing goes for hugs, kisses and tickles.

11. You will work hard — really, really hard. Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.

12. Figure out what you child is good at. Focus on that. Develop that strength. Focusing on the deficits rather than the strengths rarely produces excellence. Encourage their God given gifts.

13. Tell them as often as you can remember that you love them no matter what — no matter what they do or don’t do, no matter what they may say or not say. Tell them you’ll always, always, always love them — that it’s not possible to not love them.

14. There really is something to the airline instructions to secure your own oxygen mask before helping your children with theirs. If you’re unconscious, you can’t help anyone, and your children will be on their own. The same thing is true in life. If you’re barely surviving, whether you see it or not, your children will not be getting the care they need from you. Take time to just breathe and take care of you.

15. These children will bring you to your knees — in prayer, in scrubbing up messes you never dreamed possible, in fishing out tiny remote controlled cars out from under the fridge, in prayer.

16. If you feel yourself starting to slip… into depression, into drinking too much, into shopping too much, into binge-eating too much, there’s no shame in getting help. You’re someone’s momma. You matter.

17. Your car may not be clean for the next 18 years or so — inside or out.

18. You will marvel at how nasty a bathroom can actually be just a few days after you scrubbed it. It’s a motherhood mystery. You are not alone.

19. Sometimes, you will just close the door to that nasty bathroom and walk away. That’s OK.

20. You will worry way too much that you’re spoiling your kids. Conversely, you will worry way too much that you’re not spending enough time with your kids. If you are worried about both of these things, almost simultaneously, the truth is probably in the sweet spot… right in the middle.

21. Never ever research medical conditions on the internet before first talking to an actual doctor. No momma needs that kind of drama.

22. One day, you will look at your child and realize you’re staring him in the eye — not looking down, not bending over, just looking him in the eye. You will feel an odd mix of awe and loss.

23. No matter what the gender of your children, never leave your makeup out while your little ones are under the age of 9. Just trust me on this.

24. Get to know coffee. Make it your friend. Love it, and it will love you back.

25. Get used to saying “I’m sorry” to your child. You will mess up. You will mess up a lot.

26.  You will love more intensely than you ever thought possible. You will grieve more intensely than you ever thought possible. You will mess up worse than you ever thought possible. You will matter more to these children than you ever thought possible.

27. Get used to nakedness — lots of it. There’s a stretch of time where your child will love nothing more than to show you (and possibly others, in public) what they’ve got, any chance they get.

28. The nakedness thing will be replaced by total and complete privacy. Then you will find yourself trying to discretely peek to see if hair is now growing in places it previously did not.

29. If you are married, love your husband, even if it seems sometimes like he doesn’t love you back. Let your children see how much you love him. Tell them all the time how much you love him. He needs to hear it and so do they.

30. Build forts. They are a pain to clean up, but build them just the same. In time, you will remember those forts more fondly than they do.

31. Every once in a while, surprise them with ice cream or cake for dinner. They will survive the lack of nutrition, you’ll be the hero, and you won’t have to cook.

32. Your floors (especially the area in the corners) will be dirtier than you ever imagined. You will stress about this for some time. Then you will let it go.

33. When your child spills something — and.they.will. — try to react with grace (even if you just scrubbed that floor). We all make mistakes, and some children have more dexterity than others. A simple, “Oops. Let’s get the towel and clean this up together,” will do.

34. Sleep? Never, ever count on it. Then, it’s like a wonderful surprise when it actually happens.

35. At the end of the day, when you are beating yourself up for all the things you didn’t do, and all the things you wish you hadn’t done, stop. Stop and start to list the blessings. Every single day we have with our children is a gift. Just ask any momma who has lost her child, whose arms ache to hold her baby one last time. She will tell you. Even the bad stuff is wonderful. Even the messy and the crazy and the awful and the gut-wrenching is beautiful. This, more than anything else on this list, has been my greatest lesson as a momma so far.

No matter how sad or dark or grieved or messed up or crazy it feels, there is always, always, always something to be thankful for. There is always hope. There is always love.

This post originally appeared on Not the Former Things.

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