How to overcome judgment as a special needs parent

mother and child with disabilities outside

There is judgment that comes with being a parent. There is judgment that comes with being a parent of child with special needs; a child who continually throws sand at the playground, can’t sit during mealtime, doesn’t answer when you ask a question (over…and over….and over again), or kicks and screams when things don’t go his way. Judgment comes in different forms from our peers, strangers, or even family members. Then, there is judgment we put on ourselves! It can be stifling.

On a good day, the judgments don’t matter. On a bad day, they can leave you in a puddle on the kitchen floor.

There is also a stress that comes with being a parent of a child with special needs; especially one that is particularly spirited, intense, demanding, or needy. Stress looks different on different people, but I think we can all relate to what it feels like. It’s heavy.

Instead of focusing on the weight of it all, what I want to think about instead is, “how do you stay positive?”  

1. The people

We have all read the inspirational quotes about surrounding yourself with positive people. I’ll choose one from Oprah Winfrey (because we could all learn something from Oprah Winfrey), “Surround yourself with only people that are going to lift you higher.” Yes. Yes. Yes.  

When my monkeys are hanging off of the bunk bed engaged in a game of who knows what and it’s two hours past bedtime, sometimes I need to step away and reach out to my lifeline for support. Sometimes that lifeline comes in the form of a text message conversation with a likeminded friend many miles away. She’ll likely agree with me that my kids are intense and wild. But she’ll also remind me that they’re magical and strong. Those moments when I question everything I do as a parent, when I don’t know how I can get through the next hour, my people pick me up.

Know your people and lean on them. If you lean and you don’t feel supported, keep looking. You will find them. They are the ones that allow you to be your authentic self (the good and the bad) without judgment. They might make you laugh when you feel like you want to cry. Or let you cry when you need to cry. They’re the ones that give you some of their strength when you need it to find your positive self again.

2. The moments

I consciously try not to be on my phone all of the time, but I do have it near me or in my hand for most of the day. I take many pictures of my kids, and I text my husband if I’m feeling stressed or like I need support in a given moment (see above paragraph!). There are many, many beautiful moments on a given day, but they are quiet and unnoticed compared to the negative moments that seem to scream and thrash.

In an effort to capture and highlight the positive moments, my husband and I share a photo stream on our phones called “the moments.” It doesn’t matter what it is, but if we are having a moment of calm reflection or just taking in the beauty of the chaos, we put it up on the stream. These are not curated photos, but real life, not for anyone else’s eyes but ours. They remind us of what we value and of the beauty that can sometimes get hidden in the mess.

3. The lists

I am a list maker. Whether it’s big picture, detail focused, goal directed, or grocery shopping, I list it all. I have a new favorite list that I’d like to share; ‘3 things I’m doing right’. (This started as a ‘10 things I’m doing right’ list, but my friend’s immediate response was “NO! Too much pressure. Set yourself up for success.” So we’re sticking with three. See what I mean about surrounding yourself with positive people!?).

I’m not going to tell you what is on my list, because it really doesn’t matter, but I am going to encourage you with urgency to make your own! With pen and paper, bring it to life. Nothing is too small to add and please remember perfection in parenting is not real. Celebrate your victories! Doing something right does not mean it’s happening all of the time. It also doesn’t mean it is the best. Doing something right means that it works for you and/or your child and/or your family and that is enough.

Read your list often. Add to it or make others. Use it as a shield against the judgment when it seeps in.

4. Last but certainly not least, The Biebs

In our family, we enjoy kitchen dance parties; sometimes brief, but always important. Find the time to be silly with each other. My son and I have a shared love of Justin Bieber (hey, who’s judging now?!) and when we catch that tune, we drop what we are doing and dance it out. It doesn’t look pretty, but when I dance with my son, I don’t care that the dog has eaten our dinner, the bathroom has pee on the floor, and I forgot to return a permission slip to school. I like that feeling. I’m pretty sure he does, too.