I am the mother of a mentally handicapped 8-year-old son, Andrew, but that is not the sum total of who I am! In addition to being Andrew’s mom, I am a wife to my husband of 13 years, and I am also affectionately called “Mom” by three other boys (Zachary, Matthew--12 and Logan--2).
Along with his mental handicap, Andrew has some behavioral challenges as well that we struggle with daily. He is impulsive and aggressive at times and has difficulty accepting being told “no”! Some days are worse than others, but Andrew and the other boys will grow up and one day leave the proverbial “nest.” My husband and I will once again sit across the breakfast table with only two place settings.
So, imagine the conflicting emotions when I read of yet another class we could attend that promises to help us help Andrew learn to control his impulsive behavior … or a seminar on how to teach him self-control … or a symposium on legislative issues for disabled children. The list of opportunities for the disabled has grown tremendously over the last few decades. People with disabilities are given more opportunities now than they ever have. I don’t want to shortchange Andrew in any way, but I have to realize my limits.
Is my role as Andrew’s caregiver to run here and run there seizing every possible opportunity that presents itself with the hopes of improving his life? Yes….and no! Yes, I am to do all I can to help him succeed, but I don’t believe I am supposed to do this at the expense of my marriage or my other children. Life has a way of taking over if we don’t slow down to make conscious choices about how we want to live. This is especially true for parents of special needs children. We have been given a gift in Andrew. It takes time to unwrap this gift. My goal as the recipient of this gift is neither to CHANGE Andrew nor to make him better. My goal is to create a life for him in which he can be a generous, caring, compassionate, individual who will succeed in this world; however, the definition of success is a personal one. Success to us sometimes means staying home, having some popcorn and watching a movie. That might mean missing out on all those so-called opportunities in order to just be a family and enjoy one another. The seminars, classes and symposiums can’t unwrap the gift inside of Andrew like we can. Sometimes I wonder if we run around accessing this service and that service in order to change the reality of having a disabled child. Andrew will hopefully learn how to hear “no” and that he has to control his temper, but he may never be toilet trained. Andrew will hopefully learn enough life skills to live on his own, but he may never go to college. It’s been difficult accepting reality as less than ideal. Our family will never be “perfect” or “ideal,” but it is GOOD ENOUGH!!!