Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day?

It's the days that you dream of the most that trip you up, isn't it?

During my years of struggling with infertility and failed attempts at adoption, that moment in the Mother's Day Mass when moms stood up to receive their blessing and the collective smiles of the congregation was both painful -- a constant reminder of what I was missing -- and motivating, because it put my goal in sight. One day that would be me.

And one day it was. But my stand-up act took place in the church's "cry room," since it took years for my kids to be Ready for Pew Time. It came after an hour of wrestling with attention-challenged little ones and enduring a less-warm collective stare from fellow churchgoers. If I'd imagined the day as a glorious celebration of my new motherhood, with the sky opening up and a universal recognition of my near-divinity, that's not at all close to what happened. But you better believe I stood up anyway, and held my head high, and grabbed my moment. I'd earned it in a way those more traditional and judgmental moms could never imagine.

It occurs to me that, for parents of children with special needs -- particularly of the behavioral variety -- Mother's Day is set up all wrong. In fact, it's set up somewhat maliciously to ensure the most disheartening outcome. I mean, look at it: traditionally, we start with a worship service, follow it with a restaurant outing, and end up visiting with extended family. Could you construct a more disastrous series of events for many of our kids? All year long, we're all about changing the environment, choosing our battles, planning for success. And on the day we most want to feel like Super Mom, we sabotage any possibility of a positive outcome.

Over the years, my kids have grown more able to tolerate the traditional Mother's Day activities, and I've grown less uptight about them, less concerned with form over content. We'll still go to church today -- I still value that opportunity to stand up and be counted, and my son can sit through a service now, if you don't mind the sound of jingling keys in your pew. Afterward, though, we're going to a fast-food place my son and I have been wanting to try, and then I think there will be many games of UNO with my son (using our own special rules) and maybe a walk with my daughter and some together-time on the couch watching HGTV.

What would your perfect Mother's Day look like -- not the perfect one of your dreams, but the perfect one of your reality, filled with things that make you feel like you know what you're doing as a parent? If you can't get rid of the out-of-control stuff, at least schedule in a few moments of competence, for you and your child. It shouldn't have to be so hard.

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Terri is the guide to Parenting Children With Special Needs and the parent of a 22-year-old with language-related learning disabilities and a 19-year-old with FASD, both adopted from Russia in 1994. She is the author of 50 Ways to Support Your Child's Special Education and The Everything Parent's Guide to Sensory Integration Disorder, and also blogs at Parenting Isn't Pretty.


  1. Thank you for this post. My two kiddos are young and just getting formally diagnosed and I've been having a hard time in terms of Mother's Day.

  2. Is it too terrible to say?.... I actually don't do anything on Mother's Day!!! That way I don't have to think about it!

    However, I hope that you enjoyed your day with your son and daughter. :)

  3. Holidays are also set up so we compare to everyone else around us. My mother's day doesn't look like everyone else's so it feels somehow like a failure, instead of our just own. I'm trying hard to take back the day.

    Is it bad that all I really wanted on mother's day was some time alone to relax?

  4. I'm so glad you had a good Mother's Day!

    Our perfect day consisted of yummy food, tv, games and naps. It definitely isn't what I imagined my Mother's Day would be like - but it's perfect for us!

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone! My day went pretty much as planned, except my daughter wasn't interested in watching HGTV with me so I wound up watching Parks and Recreation DVDs on the couch all by myself, all afternoon and evening. It was pretty great.