Parenting Two Children With Special Needs
When I met Beki Sciacca several years ago, I noticed two things right away. The first was that she had the kindest voice I had ever heard. It’s a voice that resonates with comfort and big hugs. Sciacca has the kind of voice you want to soothe you on a sleepless night. It made me wish she could tuck me in.
The second thing I noticed about Sciacca is that her heart was as kind as her voice. She spoke about the pain of trauma (both unintentional and intentional) and how she wanted educators and social service workers to really understand how trauma affects children. Sciacca is the solo adoptive mom of her two grandchildren (12 and 13 years old). Her daughter, their mother, is involved in their lives, but their father isn’t. Sciacca adopted two hurting, abandoned young children.
After the breakup of a long-term relationship, Sciacca had already begun a journey of personal healing, becoming an expert in modalities to heal trauma, including the the Emotional Freedom Technique, Inner Relationship Focusing, and body-centered psychotherapy (the Hakomi Method), and she is certified through the Beyond Consequences Institute. She also has her master’s degree in Communication Science and Disorders. Sciacca offers her relationship-based, trauma-effective parenting instruction, coaching, and healing in person in the Denver Metro area, and worldwide via phone and videoconferencing. She can be contacted at Radical Acceptance Parenting.
Q: Beki, tell ESME readers about your personal experience with raising children/grandchildren with special needs.
A: When I was raising my daughter in the 1980s and ’90s, I didn’t think of myself as a parent of a child with special needs, but looking back, I can see my daughter struggled with anxiety and attachment issues. They showed up like learning disabilities and attention issues. She finally got special-education services in middle school. We did homework together every night; I had no life. It was just us.
My grandkids came to me bursting with attachment issues, learning challenges, and deep fear and anxiety. They pushed every button I had, and I was shocked by my reactions. I could see my old ways were not sustainable. I quickly realized I had to face my own hurts before I could help them or my daughter. So I started using my training to find my own grounding and, from there, could start to create a safe, healing home for my grandkids. Dealing with the schools and IEPs (individualized education programs) came later.
Q: What are your guiding principles as a solo grandparent?
A: For those of us with trauma in our lives, punishment and consequences usually just make things worse. Trauma affects the brain so the pathways we are hoping to connect with punishment aren’t in place. Punishment is often experienced as more trauma, closing the child down even more or sending the child into a rage. First and foremost is the need for love and acceptance. And the first person who needs this is us moms. As solo parents, in particular, it all comes down to us. If we don’t do the work on ourselves and learn to love and accept ourselves, we can’t possibly teach and guide our children with special needs to love and accept themselves. When we love and accept ourselves, we can trust ourselves to make good decisions because we are attuned and connected to ourselves and to our children/grandchildren. It’s not easy, believe me, but I think it is the best way to be present to our kids, to help them with the stress and anxiety that they face every day.
In my work, I teach parents there are three layers that significantly affect our ability to handle stress and trauma and to regulate our emotions: short-term, or in-the-moment trigger situations; intermediate, which includes the ambient stress that resides in you and in your home; and long-term, which deals primarily with your own personal history around how you were parented, any developmental trauma and wounding that you may be carrying, and your core issues and limiting beliefs. When we can address those layers and have a handle on ourselves, then we can bring our best to our children.
Q: What key message would you want other Solo Moms to know?
A: I often talk about inspiration, education, and transformation for parents of challenging children. Inspiration is getting encouragement that though you may be “flying solo,” that doesn’t mean that you are alone. Encouragement that your child is so much more than his or her labels; that whereas labels are defining and constraining, potential is infinite, expanding. Encouragement means that you are more than adequate for the job of being the perfect (albeit human) guide for your child.
Education is when we learn about how our child is impacted by his or her specific way of being in the world (whether that comes from a trauma history, a learning difference, or whatever) and how that affects his or her ability to be in relationships, to learn, and to self-regulate. Then we can enter into our interactions from a place of understanding, acceptance, and allowing. Also, I hope to bring to the table information and resources about approaches, parenting models, therapies, etc., that may or may not be mainstream but that I know have helped many children with special needs.
The third part is the transformation that we can offer when we develop a loving relationship with ourselves and with our children. We all have heard how important it is to remain calm with our children and to be able to respond rather than react. But there tends to be a real shortage of guidance about exactly how to do that! I hope to do my small part in filling that gap.
Image credit: Beki Sciacca
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.
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