Q & A with ESME Resource Guide and Solo Mom to three special needs children
Anna Stewart is the published author of the book Mother Blessings: Honoring Women Becoming Mothers (WovenWord Press, 2006), as well as hundreds of articles and essays. As the liaison for parents and community in the Boulder Valley School District in Boulder, Colorado, Stewart serves more than 3,000 students enrolled in the district’s special-education programming. As a Solo Mom to three children now spanning the ages of 16 to 20, all with a variety of special needs requiring special-education supports of some kind, Stewart has grappled with the same social, emotional, learning, educational, and other issues as the parents she serves in her job.
Stewart has a special passion for helping parents learn how to advocate with their children, empowering and educating parents to support their children as they move through and out of the educational system and into the wider world. Her own daughter, a high-school sophomore, is evidence of the power of this approach, as are her other children.
I first met Stewart when I called her in desperation, seeking information, support, and guidance for an educational-placement issue I was having regarding my grandson, then in second grade. I have relied on her knowledge, wisdom, and support many times since, and I cannot count how many times I have said these words to friends and clients: “Call Anna. She can help you.” Needless to say, I always have her number on hand!
Q: Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?
A: I did a lot right, even though I mostly just trusted my intuition, but I would have done better if I had had more breaks. As a Solo Mom (and often even when I was married), it was all up to me, and taking a break required an enormous amount of effort—so mostly I just kept on parenting and working. I lost contact with my essential self for a long time. The good news is that I never “left the building” and was able to nurture my spirit as soon as I realized that it was vital to my survival and to cultivating a healthy relationship with my kids.
In practical terms, I would have taken my eldest son out of public school and done something way out of the box.
Q: As a Solo Mom, what are you most proud of?
A: The thing I am most proud of is that I have a strong, healthy, respectful relationship with each of my three children. I learned early on that it was better to give up being right so that I could be right in my relationships. I value my relationships with my kids more than I value being a manager or the one who knows best. As each of my kids grows toward adulthood, I can say that I enjoy my time with them. I enjoy talking to them and learning what they think and care about. I am not talking about being my kids’ best friend. That is not my role with them. I always felt my role as a mother was to guide my children and learn to let go.
Q: How do you think that you are different, personally and as a mother, as a result of raising kids with special needs?
A: Well, it certainly put me on a career path that I would not have been on if I didn’t have personal experience. When my daughter was just a toddler, I started seeking out other parents who were raising kids with special needs—even though we really had no idea what that meant in terms of school or our children’s rights. I learned from them. I learned from hearing their stories and finding the connection through their narratives. I was a writer already, so I knew how to listen to people’s stories and recognize the universal truths in them. I started going to conferences and reading lots of books and blogs.
The biggest change was that I started to see the social injustice that people with disabilities face every day. I had no idea how to make the world a welcoming and understanding place for my daughter, but I had to. So, over the years, I became an expert in parenting a child with a disability—any disability—and since I was walking right alongside all the other parents, I had the inside perspective. I could see and know the pain and the heartache, and also the joys and celebrations. I have touched or supported or worked with thousands of parents at this point. Sometimes I don’t know how any of us get up in the morning, as the world is still not very ready for our children, but I know that working together is the only chance we have to change things. I have learned all that from raising my nontraditional kids.
Beki Sciacca helps parents who are raising challenging children by training them in a relationship-based, trauma-effective parenting model. She has a master’s degree in Communication Science and Disorders and has become the Solo Mom of her two amazing grandchildren.
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