I have been a special needs parent for almost 24 years. My oldest was diagnosed with Aspergers and dysgraphia. That presented a few challenges, but we were able to overcome them. Then my second son played a big part in helping my older son become super high-functioning, even as he dealt with his own challenges, namely dyslexia. He is about to finish college with a degree in psychology and will soon move on to grad school. We also adopted my daughter, who was born missing her lower legs. She’s had some surgeries and deals with anxiety, but in spite of that is a competitive dancer who will soon also be a high school graduate.
These three kids had me feeling like a very successful mom. Sure, I made mistakes. I lost my temper and said stupid stuff. I occasionally forgot to do the tooth fairy or “cheated” with store-bought birthday cakes. I was not a perfect mom, but I was a successful one. My husband and I made a good team, and our kids were emotionally healthy and attached.
Then came my youngest son. He’s amazing too- smart, handsome, and strong. A survivor. He has some physical issues, but those, we know how to overcome. He also has emotional and mental issues. Those were harder, so I did what what I do. I started learning. I went to conferences, read books, listened to podcasts, watched videos, and talked to experts. We did counseling and day programs. We tried medication. I poured my heart and soul and time into figuring out how to help him. I spent hours holding and rocking him. I gave him choices, I gave him do-overs, and we did time-in. I did absolutely everything I could.
The books made it seem like I just had to follow the instructions and my kid would heal. He just needed time and love and consistency and therapy. I read stories of other people’s adoptions. In those stories, the moms never got mad, never yelled or cried, never got tired of being therapeutic. They never seemed to doubt themselves or wonder if they were good enough for this hard job. In the stories, the kids attached. Meanwhile, in the chat rooms and the groups, I was afraid to admit I felt like I was failing as a mom. Mom is my identity. It’s the only job I ever wanted and I wanted to be good at it. Full-time. I love kids so much that I blew our savings and traveled across the world just so I could love one more. I couldn’t admit I was failing, that this kid I loved so much hated me. I was trying so hard. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.
Finally, I read a book called Love Lessons, where the mom talked about her struggles and doubts. That was a beacon of hope to me. I took a step back and looked around. I realized my other kids and my marriage were hurting and I hadn’t even noticed because I was trying so hard to help this kid, a kid who didn’t even want my help. So I changed tactics. I haven’t quit trying, but I did stop making his issues the biggest thing in my life. I still read, take classes, and try to learn, but I don’t take my son to therapy, having finally listened to the therapist who said there was no point until he was willing to try. I spend time taking care of my other kids and my marriage. I wish I could say I took care of me, but…not yet. Baby steps.
I don’t have a lot of answers. We are still here, I still love him, and I am still trying to help him. I just can’t let that consume me. I can’t do it for him. I can’t force him to heal or attach. Yes, this means I may fail at helping him. But I will know I have tried my best, and that is all I can do. Failure is always an option.