What I love about being the parent of a child with Special Needs

Kerry Fender by Kerry Fender Additional Needs

Kerry Fender

Kerry Fender

Down’s Syndrome, my family and me – one mum’s account of family life with an extra chromosome.

Before you read this post I should warn you that sometimes I can be a little bit sarcastic.

What do I love about being the parent of a child with special needs?

I love my kids.

Yeah -that’s right! I love all three of the little buggers – even the ‘normal’ one who doesn’t bring me loads of sympathy, a get-out-of-jail-free card, or shed-loads of benefits. She is great at dealing with her siblings though, so she does have her uses.

I love being a parent.

I had problems having kids, so any kind of kid is better than none at all! And parenting is SO much easier when you don’t have to worry about dressing the little sods in the latest Instagram-ready outfits, or buying them the latest must-have toys, or fighting to get them into the best school; when you don’t have to spend your evenings running them to Scouts, Brownies, football, dance classes, judo,etc; and when you don’t have to worry about SATs or GCSEs, or university.

We ‘special needs’ parents don’t know we’re born, right?

I love that I don’t have to discipline my kids or teach them manners.

OK, let’s stop right there. I did warn you that I can be sarcastic.

Right now, I’m being very snarky indeed. I shouldn’t have to explain what I love about parenting a child with ‘special needs’.

I wouldn’t have to explain it to another ‘special needs’ parent.

They would understand: not only the kind of things that I might love about parenting a child with a disability or additional needs, but they would understand that there ARE many things to love about this kind of parenting.

Most of the rest of the world doesn’t understand this: they have so many misconceptions and myths clamped firmly in their jaws, like badly-trained bulldogs that won’t let go of a thing until they’re prised off with a stick.

There’s the eye-rolling mummy in the supermarket who thinks our children behave in unexpected ways because we don’t bother to parent them; the bitter keyboard warrior bashing out the assertion that our children are just a meal-ticket, that you only have to take your child to the doctor and ask for a diagnosis of ADHD and you immediately get four times the amount of state benefits that anyone else gets; and the blinkered old fart who says that he once met one mother who said she didn’t love her disabled child and wished she’d never had him, and therefore this is undoubtedly true of all others.

These are the people who need an explanation, whether they want one or not. And these are the people who make me feel the most sarcastic.

But, instead, here is my polite and honest answer to the question ‘What do you love about being the parent of a child with special needs?’, which will, of course, immediately be discounted by anyone who really needs to hear it:

I love my kids: All three of them, equally.

I love them because they are mine, and I love them for exactly who they are.

It has been, and still is, fascinating watching their personalities, interests, and aptitudes developing, watching them become ‘their own people’.

I love that I can see different shades of both myself and their dad in each of them.

I love seeing them achieve – it doesn’t matter what the achievement is, so long it represents progress or a personal best, all are equally a cause for celebration.

To be honest, I just love to see them try, because having the confidence to try things is the most important first step, a thing I myself have so often lacked. I love to see them go out into the world and enjoy life in spite of the challenges they face.

I love that, perhaps because we have faced more challenges, we are a very close family unit.

I love being a parent: I suffered recurrent miscarriages before finally becoming a mum, so to me, parenthood feels like a privilege rather than an automatic right.

The love a child brings into the world with them is the most marvellous gift ever, and the feeling of holding my children in my arms, warm and moving and vibrating with life, is something I will be in awe of for the rest of my life.

I will never get over my delight in them. I take immense pride in trying to be exactly the parent each of them needs, and they’ve each needed something slightly different.

I love reading stories at night, picnics, trips to the zoo, the seaside, and the cinema, family holidays, meals round the table, going to the pantomime, the excitement and togetherness of Christmas.

My parenting life is not different to ‘typical’ family life, it just has some extras, and the full-on parenting demands that come with young children will go on for a while longer than usual.

If I haven’t been able to have a career because of my children’s needs, then that’s not a tragedy, and it’s certainly not a ‘waste of my education’.

I can’t think of a better use for my energy and creativity than finding ways to help my own children thrive in a world that makes life far more difficult for them than it needs to be.

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