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How Raising a Child With a Disability Helped Me Find My Strengths

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I learned something last weekend and it goes like this:

Motherhood has revealed my strengths.

It’s not rocket science I guess, but it was something I needed to hear. Because when my daughter with Down syndrome was first born, my first thought was I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this. I feel such shame reliving that, but it’s essential that I own up to it in order to see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown.

I have always been the type of person who gets easily frustrated by the silliest things – the wind blowing my umbrella or an unsteerable shopping cart in the grocery store. I thought for sure I’d be the worst mother, with no tolerance for toddler tantrums or wiggly babies. But I have talked my daughter through echocardiograms, retaught concepts I thought she had learned months ago and deciphered unintelligible words and gestures to make sure her wants and needs get met. Sometimes it is difficult to remain calm and focused, but it is my strength. I am patient.

Having my daughter has made me reexamine and recognize my innate prejudices. Had I laughed at an R-word joke before? Did I worry about my typically developing son being in an integrated classroom? Had I made assumptions about someone based on their race or disability? Was I condescending? The answer to all of these things is yes, but I am aware now and I work hard to check my biases and see past differences. It is hard to put a name to bad feelings within ourselves and to learn from them, but it is my strength. I am respectful, kind and less judgmental.

I don’t like conflict. I used to accept the answer I was given without question, not wanting to rock the boat. But there have been instances involving her care – both medical and academic – where I knew the answer I was given was not in her best interest. In those instances I have had to dig up the answers I needed, no matter how many dead ends I encountered. You need confidence and faith in yourself in order to pursue the truth. It is outside my comfort zone, but it is my strength. I am persistent.

Parenting my son is enjoyable. He is a good student, he is a good friend, he is determined and capable. Parenting my daughter is harder – not because she is not any and all of those things, but because the outside world needs to be told to look for those qualities within her. People don’t presume competence and we are working to change that. Shouting about her worth – sometimes literally – can be exhausting, but it is my strength. I am an advocate.

Every day we are up against people who have not learned all of these things yet. They do not acknowledge who she is or who she can become. It is scary to challenge society’s ingrained thoughts, or to think we can change hearts and minds, but it is my strength. I am brave.

I feel very fortunate that this girl has been able to mold me into the mother she needs and she deserves. Were these qualities always inside of me, just waiting for a particular passion to ignite them and turn them into strengths? Or could it only have been because of her? Either way I am grateful for the chance to become a better person and a strong mother. I am grateful I am her mother.

Originally published: September 25, 2019
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