Getting that call that made me an instant parent didn’t automatically make me a great parent. I started a journey that I’m still on, 38 years later.
I had some great role models over the years, but I still made mistakes. I also had some great success as a parent. Whether good or bad, success or failure, most of my parenting just seemed to happen.
Not sure about you, but none of my kids came with instruction booklets. I had a degree in education. I took child development and child psychology classes. I saw how family and friends parented. But I was far from an expert at raising kids, especially those with disabilities. Older now, I wish I could go back and give myself some words of wisdom about what I now know to be true.
"Don’t be so hard on yourself.
"No matter how hard you try, you can’t get everything right. You’ll make mistakes, say the wrong things, sometimes make the wrong decisions. You don’t know it now, but even those ‘perfect’ parents you run across also make mistakes. Most of the mistakes you make as a parent won’t do irreparable harm.
"Don’t take yourself too seriously. Yes, your job as parent is very significant. But you need to take time to enjoy the crazy moments that only your kids can create. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with your kids. Let your kids see the child in you.
"Teach them how to color outside the lines, laugh at their mistakes. Let them know that perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Teach them that our mistakes are what leads us to our successes.
"Give yourself a life beyond your children. Don’t underestimate the importance of 'me time.' Remember that you were a person before you were a parent. Let your kids see how important it is to be a part of the world around you. And let them see how friendships can enrich you and make you better able to face the challenges in your life.
"Enjoy all the little moments. They grow up way too fast—well before you are ready. And despite the mistakes and the missed moments, your children will become the remarkable persons they are meant to be. And part of your heart will never be the same."
Lots of helpful information is available in the section on Parenting Children with Disabilities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.