5 Things Any Special Needs Parent Feeling Guilty Needs to Hear

I believe that with the birth of every child, a parent is bestowed a superhero cape. First-time parents. Fourth time parents. Parents of typically developing children. Parents of children with special needs. Some parents wear it proudly. Others never even put the cape on. But, no matter what, every parent has the chance to wear the superhero cape.

What exactly is this cape?

This is the cape that you put on when you have to leave the house in under three minutes and no one has matching socks. You wear it at the grocery store as you carry a toddler on one hip, push a shopping cart and comfort a preschooler in the midst of a meltdown. It’s what you wear when you take whatever is left in your pantry, throw it in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes and turn it into a delicious… ahem… consumable casserole. The cape is what permits you to do the unimaginable, like manage to function with only two hours of sleep and a mere two cups of highly caffeinated coffee with a double shot of espresso.  

As a parent of a child with special needs, I find myself breaking out my superhero cape on a regular basis. Sometimes I wear my cape for my daughter. To help her navigate the playground when her body won’t cooperate. To carry her up flights of stairs when her muscles become too tired. To comfort her when she experiences sensory overload.

Many times, I wear the cape to “save” myself. From a depression that can be overwhelming at best. From an unknown diagnosis that ignites fear. From the daily doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions that dominate our lives.

If you are like me, dear parent, you know that sometimes, you will have to take your cape off, and this may cause tremendous guilt. Your cape will get dirty and torn. Sometimes, it will need to be mended and cleaned because, sometimes, life likes to throw you down in the mud to see if you have the will to get up again.

And when you do get up, because you will get up, I want you to remember this as you wait for your cape to be returned from the dry cleaners:

1. Be kind to yourself. It’s OK to need a break and to take your cape off for a while. Parenthood is sacrifice. It is putting everyone’s needs before your own, and parenting a child who is differently abled increases the lists of needs. Your child’s therapy and doctor’s appointments will undoubtedly take precedence over binge-watching your favorite reality TV show and finishing that book you started reading a year ago. Allow yourself to have some “you time.” A solo shopping trip to Target, a matinee movie, a spa day. OK, I know, I know, a spa day is laughable.

2. Ask for help. Although it may feel like you are alone, you are not. Whether your support system consists of family members, close friends, Facebook acquaintances or a mixture of both, don’t be afraid to express your needs to others. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, seeking help means you are honest with yourself, know your limitations and you are proactive. You advocate for your child. Don’t be ashamed to advocate for yourself, too. 

3. Forgive yourself. One universal truth of parenthood is that you will make mistakes. Yes, even with your cape on, there will be days when you feel like a complete failure. That’s OK. No one — including your child — expects you to be perfect. Mess up. Learn from it. And move on.

4. Feel without apology. You are allowed to have good days and sad days and downright terrible days. You are allowed to cry and laugh and worry. You are allowed to feel scared and happy and helpless. And some days, you will manage to feel all of the above in a matter of seconds. You owe no explanation nor an apology for your feelings. 

5. Rock that cape. When you are ready, put your cape back on. Dance in it. Run in it. Laugh in it. Dream in it. Most importantly, love yourself in it, because nobody wears that cape quite as well as you do.

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