There has been a lot of controversy over here in the US lately over a recent Wall Street Journal article which lauds Chinese mothers over their Western counterparts. You can read it here, if you haven't already done so. The author presents her case that the Chinese raise such stereotypically successful kids, due to the strict upbringing enforced by Chinese mothers. It has caused an outrage over here in the US, but I wasn't outraged, I was bemused. Why? Because I'm neither a Chinese nor a Western mother. I'm a Special Needs mother, both alike and different to our cultural stereotype counterparts.
Some of us became Special Needs mothers before their children were born. They learned while their child was still in utero that their child would have a disability. For others, they didn't know until birth that their child was different. And still others, like myself, had a child whose differences became evident as their development took on a different track. Some chose to adopt a child with a disability. Others struggle with coming to terms with the unsuspected turn of events that impacts every member of their family. Some of us have incredibly supportive partners, others are going it alone. We stay at home, or we we go out to work, our hearts always with our children. It doesn't matter how different we are: we are the same, we Special Needs mothers.
And just as we are the same, we understand something that the Chinese mother who feels superior, and the Western mother who is outraged does not always realize. Our children are different. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to raising our kids, even the ones with the same diagnoses are unique, and our approach to them needs to be just as flexible. I've often heard the complaint that there is no manual for raising a special needs child. I'm glad there isn't, it would be useless! A strategy that works one day achieves nothing the next. We are pragmatic and flexible. We do what it takes for our kids to be happy, that thinking doesn't fit in well with any parenting ideology. If you think that makes us pushovers, you should see us when our children are mistreated.
At times we have to push our children. We take our children to hospitals and therapists when the look in their eyes makes us want to quit. We can be as relentless as the Chinese mother in pushing our children towards our goals. But our goals are different. They might be to move our child into an inclusive classroom, or to be toilet-trained, or to bear their own weight for a few seconds, or put on their own clothes, or learn alternative ways to communicate, or recognize colors, or write their own name. You give us a meaningful goal, and we'll work harder than any other Mother to achieve it. And our pride in our children and their determination will exceed what we ever imagined it could be.
At times we are forgiving of our children. The behavior that would shock anybody else often gets us labeled as permissive. When we go to restaurants, it isn't just Chinese mothers who question our methods. I am the mother who would reward her child for every bite of dinner with a cracker. The sleepovers, and school plays, and playdates are celebrated as a success, not obstacles in the path to it. Success is very different for Special Needs mothers. It is the grace and courage we see every day in our children trying to fit into a world that wasn't made for them.
We might not get to watch our children become piano or violin virtuosos, but we get to see the magic and wonder of childhood up close and in slow motion. We get to be awed and humbled by the ordinary, every day. Western parents tend to give up. When it comes to our children, we will never give up, because they never do. They would give up anything for their children, says Amy Chua. So would we, even our dreams of what their future would be. We give up our fantasy of motherhood. Our reward is that our kids are themselves, not some projected image of what we want them to be.
We're irrevocably changed by our children. We crusade to make the world more accepting. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. We definitely agree on that one. You won't find me saying that Special Needs mothers are superior to any other. Our strength comes from reaching out, instead of tearing each other down. Though we can be divided, there are places like Hopeful Parents where we can gather to support one another. That is why we don't care if at times we are considered too strict, or too permissive, too demanding or too coddling. We do our best by our kids. As wonderfully, beautifully different as the mothers who raise them.