By Marcy M
Every baby is a blessing. Every child is a gift.
As parents of a child of special needs, we help others see what a gift our child is. It may not be obvious to those who do not spend every day with our child — sitting on the floor in mommy’s lap, cuddling together and asking to be read to, or whirling around in daddy’s arms, the house filling with the infectious joy of baby laughter. It may not be obvious to someone who only sees our child for a few seconds in a grocery store, for a few minutes in a doctor’s office, for a few hours in a classroom. Sometimes, it is not obvious to us until we have lived with our child long enough to see past the way the world defines him and know him for who he really is.
A vital aspect to the work that PHP and the parent groups do is the support they provide to us in our most important job as parents of a special-needs child. They remember that we haven’t always been the parents of this very special child, even though we have only come to know each other once we have been given this label. They understand that no matter how long we have been the parents of this very special child, whether for a day or two or for twenty, thirty or more years, we are still learning what that means. We are still learning how to help others see past the “needs” until they reach that special child that we have come to know and love so well. Our sons and daughters, who love to play and have fun and do the same things that other children love to do, but maybe not in exactly the same way. Our children, who have thoughts and feelings, opinions and desires, even though they may not be able to express them, much less speak them in a way that the whole world can understand. Boys and girls, who want to be understood and loved for who they are, just like other children. This is what we, as parents, see: children more like than unlike their peers, even if the rest of the world sees and says otherwise. The people at PHP and the parents they bring together know and share this intimately well, and bring strength to each other in this connection.
We all come here in a time and place in our lives where we may feel isolated or distant from the definition of what it means to be parents. We may suddenly feel disconnected from friends we have known our whole lives, family who support us but don’t fully understand, other parents who have what we now know to call “typically developing” children. Being a parent now may be defined very differently from what we initially anticipated– before our child became a part of our lives and reshaped our world. Sometimes, it takes a while to reconcile this reality with the imagined future we carried with us. Sometimes, it takes a while to get used to all the new words and acronyms that have come to us with our child. Sometimes, it takes a while to re-examine labels and stereotypes that before, we would have used and believed without giving second thought to what they mean to the people they are meant to describe.
For some of us, it takes a while to welcome strangers into our world. Strangers who truly understand what you feel and, like you, will forever remember that moment which connects you: the moment, they too, were given the label of “parent of a child with special needs.” Even if you are not ready now, one day you might be. And when you are, these strangers will welcome you and open their families to you with an immediacy and unwavering support, even if you have never met before.
They know that your children are more alike than different. They are willing to share their stories with you, their triumphs, their disappointments, their worries and heartaches. But right now, they are strangers who know that it is not always easy to walk the path that you share. And even if you are fortunate enough to have family and friends standing with you, you are even luckier to have this group of people who you do not yet know. These people will form a community of support and encouragement around you and your child. They will remind you, at times when you need it most, that they are walking on that path with you. They will remind you, when you most need to hear it, of what they already know: every baby is a blessing, every child is a gift.