Speechless' Birthday Episode Challenged How I Parent My Child With a Disability


On Wednesday’s “Speechless” episode, JJ celebrated his 18th birthday. His family threw him a party and made him a “fudgey” cake.

After having conversations with his friends about how they celebrated their own 18th birthdays and what their future plans are, JJ wrestles with his feelings, as it is obvious his peers are celebrating much differently than him. By contrast, JJ’s 18th birthday party reminds us of a birthday party for an 8-year-old.

The thing is, I’ve been that parent. I have two kids with disabilities and I’ve been the overpowering mom who overprotects my kids. I believe my kids are capable, that is not the issue — it’s just that I am afraid of how vulnerable they are and feel a fierce need to protect them. I am afraid they will be bullied, afraid they won’t be accepted, afraid they won’t have friends, afraid they will struggle. So I keep them close and have a hard time letting go.

I know letting go is hard for many parents. When you have kids with disabilities, the letting go can be especially challenging.

I am a huge proponent of treating people with disabilities in age-appropriate ways. I teach disability etiquette at churches and conferences and point out why this is important and how our role should be to provide appropriate and needed supports to make that happen. So why is this so hard to do as a parent? I have two preteens, which means I need to let them move on from being little kids.

It is hard.

But this is what I know: I want my kids to reach their 18th birthday and have as much independence as they can. I want to support them in their interests and activities, and I especially hope I am better at knowing when to back up.

I believe this is a learning process. I hope I do my job of listening to my kids and helping them pursue their dreams. And when they say, “Mom I got this, back up,” as hard as it might be to do so, I will have to let them grow up and make their own choices.

And just like Maya knows she might be crossing the line, I hope I too am aware when it is time to move to the side and let my kids be adults.


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