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For the Mom at Playgroup Whose Child Has Developmental Delays

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My lovely 5-year-old son has an undiagnosed genetic condition and global development delay. My oldest girl was only 3 when he arrived so we were already firmly ensconced on the playgroup circuit. She had a little gang – girls and boys she’d one day go to school with – and she looked forward to the twice-weekly activity a lot.

No matter how strong I thought I was, how nonchalant, how brazen, every time the session finished I would end up doing the same thing. Standing in my kitchen with my hands over my eyes willing myself not to cry. Cross. Sad. Hurt. All at the same time. Wanting to slap myself in the face for feeling like this again.

I feel I can only admit this now. Now that life is settled and steady and our new normal feels just right.

Taking my son to playgroup was difficult. No matter how kind and lovely the people were, it was a painful for me. You can’t imagine unless you’ve been there.

How it was hard to watch similar-aged children play and giggle as my baby lied in my arms. It was hard to be met with well-placed sympathetic smiles. It was hard to explain that my baby was 6 months old but could not lift his head, was a year old and could not sit upright, was 2 and could not stand. It hurt when people didn’t know what to say at all, so they ignored me completely.

Harsh. Perhaps.

Looking back now, I was a tricky customer. I was such a mess emotionally, I am not sure how best I would have handled me.

If you go to playgroup, and there is a mum there with a baby who is facing challenges, I guess my advice would be:

Keep asking her how she is.

She might brush you off with an “I’m fine,” but know this: she is consumed with worry for her child. She might fear breaking down, that if she starts talking she might never stop. But do please keep asking.

Give her some leeway.

Tiredness might make her sharper-tongued and more standoffish. I know everyone is
tired with little ones. But you have no clue what she might have been doing in the dead of the night. Hovering over the phone debating whether to call an ambulance, Googling a new symptom, feeling terrified. She will also be quite self-absorbed at the minute – if she forgets all your news from last week (or even your name), don’t take it personally.

Arrange playdates.

Honestly, one of our biggest fears for our other children is that they are missing out on things. Playdates mean she can focus on her child with additional needs while the other children play together.


She will undoubtedly feel like she is letting everyone down: children, husband, work, friends, parents, herself. Tell her what a good job she is doing; notice that the baby
has put on weight or that she has taken care to dress them as cute as possible. Remark how well-mannered her children are — anything that she can put in her pocket and pull out when she feels frightened and alone.

Make her laugh.

It is good to smile, so tell her your funny stories, how much you like a certain
beefcake in such and such film. Save that daft thing you did to make her giggle. There is no greater gift.

Be kind. It is remarkable how far a warm-hearted smile or a simple squeeze of the shoulder can go.

And for the mum braving playgroup, my advice is simply this:

Cry those tears. They will make you stronger.

Keep on putting one foot in front of the other. You are doing great.

You are going to surprise yourself. You just don’t know it yet.

Better days are coming. I promise.

Follow this journey on Complicated Gorgeousness.

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Originally published: March 23, 2016
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