All Kids Have Needs

All Kids Have Needs

Reducing the guilt and stress of parenting siblings with and without special needs

At a glance:

  • We parent each kid differently, including those with special needs and those without.
  • You will not be able to do everything for everyone.
  • Stress and guilt are the shadows of love and commitment.

When you child gets a diagnosis, there is relief and grief—and then you spring into action. We have something to do, and so we do it; we set up appointments with doctors, speech therapists, and music therapists. Then there are the tutors, special camps, and horse therapy. Instead of playing on the playground after school, we rush everyone into the car so we can get to the next appointment.

The child with special needs gets his needs met; but what about his younger sister?

We are barely able to do all that the therapists want us to do and we have to also fit in soccer practice, homework, and dinner. We want to give our kids everything they need to be successful, but balancing siblings with and without special needs is tough.

As Solo Moms we are used to stress and guilt, but adding a child with disabilities multiplies the demands and the guilt.

Raise your hand if any of these emotions are true for you:

  • I spend more time with my child with needs than my typical child.
  • My other child is always having to come along to therapists.
  • I don’t do what the therapists tell me to do, and I feel badly about it.
  • My typical child spends more time in waiting rooms than their own room.

You have good company. All the other Solo Moms have raised their hands too.

Now let’s look at those emotions.

People who don’t care don’t feel guilty, so the fact that you do means you love your children.

It means you want to do all you can to help them be happy and capable people. It’s how the guilt affects you and your ability to mother that’s important. Guilt can propel us into action, but if we allow too much of it, we become paralyzed and unhappy.

TIP: Keep a log of what you do for at least a week. Include everything—making special meals, setting up and keeping appointments, and how much time you spend helping with homework. You are getting a baseline so you can see what you want to change or keep.

Parenting kids with and without special needs does mean you will do more. It’s the reality. But you get to decide how much and how often, and you can review the benefits and cost of your decisions. You can’t and you won’t get everything done. You can’t and you won’t do all the therapies, special diets, and tutoring that you think you should. And that is OK.

TIP: After you have a complete log of how you spend your time, look at you want to change it. Aim for a decrease or increase of 5%. Big changes are hard, but 5% is very doable.

Your daughter may not complain about going to another appointment for her brother. She may seem to understand that he needs extra help. She may also complain about sitting in waiting rooms or in her bedroom while her brother has a meltdown. She may complain that you don’t spend time with her.

TIP: Talk to the typical sibling regularly. Ask her what would make waiting easier. Could you read a book to her or ask her to play her favorite music for you? Give specific praise for her efforts (not for being sweet or nice or easy) so she knows that you see her and understand. And talk about how to be with her brother. Does she understand his disability and how to be with him?

You have probably already thought of special things to do with your typical child. Consider small ways that you can be with her and give her your attention for a minute or two. Special things are meant to be seldom. Daily connections build a bond.

The child with special needs also needs time with you that is not about fixing him but just being together. Again, small, daily ways are easier (can you do 5% more?) and make each day a little smoother. He also needs to hear what he does well.

And so do you! Find other moms to talk to about your life and listen for ways they handle things. Doing our best may be more than we can do at any given moment, but doing what is in front of us is good enough.

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Anna Stewart is ESME’s Kids with Special Needs Resource Guide and the Solo Mom of a daughter and two sons on the brink of adulthood. She’s a champion for the rights of people living with disabilities and those who love them.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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