There is a saying every parent has heard:
It takes a village to raise a child.
And it really does. My daughter is a four-year-old pistol. While I love her very much, she would not be thriving nearly as much as she is if it weren’t for the village helping us raise her. Her grandma, who takes her once a week, her aunts who listen to the stories I’ve already heard twenty times in a ten-minute time span, the dental hygienist who knows she is putting on a drama fest for our attention and takes her under her wing so we don’t have to listen to the forced crying; not to mention the teachers, gymnastics coaches, librarians, the list goes on and on.
It also doesn’t include the list she doesn’t know about; my friends with children her same age or older that have been through this stage before, coworkers that hear me vent about her behavior, and the mom face-book groups I anonymously beg for advice from. Because that is how we work as moms, it’s how we function. We look for those who get how hard raising a tiny human can be and cling to them. When I see a crying toddler at Target and I throw that mom a, “I feel you, go get yourself a coffee,” look without even missing a beat. Our villages are strong.
But what about those villages that cannot be all-inclusive? The ones for the tiny humans with extra special needs? Those villages are harder to come by and harder to understand. My son, who is also four, requires one of these special villages. For every five people I can reach out for advice about my daughter, there is about one I can for my son.
A family member recently had her second baby. While I was at work one night, I received a frantic text asking what it is like to be a special needs parent. Her perfect newborn girl and my crazy preschool boy have completely separate diagnoses, but none of that matters. When you are a parent of a child with special needs, it doesn’t always matter if the people in your village have the exact same experience. It matters that they know the feeling of defeat, heartache, and disappointment when their child is not reaching milestones they are supposed to be or functioning like other peers their age – all while smiling and feeling immense pride for what their child is doing.
Mamas and others in this village know that when they see a mom in Target with an extra special kiddo, that mom needs more than a coffee. She needs a hug, a reassuring smile, and someone who truly gets the roller coaster that family has been forced to ride. When we first found out our son was not the kid we imagined we’d be raising, I went full-on stalker mode to a Facebook profile of a teacher I once had in high school that has a special little girl. Not because our kids were the same, but because I knew reading her posts she got it.
Being in the latter village is hard.
As moms, we want the people in our other village, the one for our ‘typical’ child, to be part of this world, too. We value their advice and wish more than anything you were in both. But, even though we all want you to be, even though I know you want to help unless you’ve been here, you simply can’t be. It’s important to remember as a friend, I don’t think you’re unable to give valuable advice; the hard truth is you and I are riding two different roller coasters. I can sometimes hop on yours and be your riding buddy, but this one over here is for an exclusive list that I wish was so much larger.
Our youngest son just turned eight months old. I would be outright lying if I said I didn’t care which village he was going to belong to. It wouldn’t be honest if I said I didn’t pray I could throw him in with his sister and ask all the advice from all the people. Every single milestone he hits I find myself exhaling a breath of relief. It is hard belonging to two villages but without both, I wouldn’t be the mom I am able to be.
Thank you to today’s guest blogger, Steffanie Enderle