People often tell me that Luke and I are doing a great job raising our children given their disabilities. This is extremely insulting as a parent. My children are special as are all children. My children are not different, but they are children with unique needs as well as abilities. People ask how we have managed to raise respectful well behaved kids given their conditions and ours. We are a special family, not because of special needs, but because of a special love. I believe that having a disability or illness can make you appreciate every blessing in life more than before, and we all need to count our blessings. I also believe children are life’s biggest blessing and greatest teachers. Children are born innocent, without expectations, without hate, and without entitlement. You need very few things to raise empowered children and none of these things cost any money. You need love, determination, patience, and most importantly the ability to express your feelings. These things apply to all children! We have plans of raising Olivia with the same techniques as we have with both of our older daughters who happen to have special needs.
“You’re going to spoil that baby if you pick them up constantly”.
I’m pretty sure that almost every parent has heard this phrase at least once during the first year of their child’s life, especially if you’re fortunate enough to have living grandparents. I can tell you from experience that no child has ever been in therapy for receiving too much love and care. This is pure nonsense. Babies cry because it is their only form of communication. Children need healthy physical contact, especially as babies to feel secure. There is no need to hold them every waking moment of the day, but you can not give a child too much love. We tell our children we love them with every single interaction we share with them. Knowing they are loved is key to a child being able to form any type of healthy relationship. No one has ever said I have too much love in my life.
Highlight their strengths and abilities!!
When we introduce Tay to new people we use very specific words to highlight her abilities. This is our daughter Tay! She is such a big smart girl that she talks with her hands! Isn’t that the neatest thing? She is a butt kick cancer survivor and that’s why she learned to talk with her hands! Do you know how to speak with your hands too? Oh you can’t? Well that’s okay too, because she can hear everything perfectly! She can also show you picture cards and her iPod is programmed to say certain things using words. Do you want to show them your neat toys Tay? Wow, that is so cool! What do like to do that makes you a special big girl/boy? Wow, you are are so cool too! You want to go play now? If there is anything you need help understanding you can ask her big sister Bella or you can ask us too okay? You kids go have fun playing on the slides!
We absolutely never use words like mute or she can’t talk in her presence. We’ve taken her acquired limitation and have turned it into a special talent that not many people can do themselves. She is very proud that she has a special gift!
When they can not be included we bring the inclusion to them!
While we don’t expect children to know sign language we are all aware of their tremendous acting skills. For instance Tay can not speak. What groups of small children doesn’t love a game of charades where they are forced to speak without using words? All children love to play and sometimes as parents we need to find ways to include our children. It’s not a child’s fault that they do not have a medical degree or that their parents were ignorant in teaching them about differences. Find things that are built around your child’s special ability and build group activities around it. Change does not create itself!
Correct your children with guidance and not anger!
This one takes work and a lot of it. Sometimes you look at your teens and think what in the name of God did I ever do to deserve this?? Take the time to walk away. Words spoken in anger create fear, nothing else, and a child throwing a tantrum does not hear you over their screams. Instead of telling your children what they’ve done wrong explain why it was wrong. Explain to them how to do things safely, nicely, and respectfully. Never forget that you are their first and most important teacher in life. You teach your children to lie to avoid your wrath when you teach your children with fear. If it takes 15 minutes extra for you both to calm down then so be it. What has yelling ever gotten anyone?
Teach them to never stop trying!
Teach your children that nothing worth having is easy and nothing easy is worth having. We appreciate what we work for and that satisfaction comes from overcoming the struggle. They may never get it done and that is okay! They are showing everyone that they have the confidence to keep trying. My teenage daughter, with a genius IQ, has finally mastered tying her shoes. She’s more proud of that than she is of her Presidential Award for Academic Achievement, and so am I. Schoolwork comes easy to her, but this she worked for and we celebrated with pizza and ice cream cake.
Apologize when you mess up!
We all have had those parenting fail moments. You haven’t scarred your kids for life. The greatest thing we can show our children besides love, is our humility and tell them we our sorry for our mistakes. We make our children apologize to us when they mess up. Why are we not practicing what we preach? Sorry does not have an age limit. Why are we teaching our children it’s okay to let someone in their own homes disrespect them? Why should they expect better from life than what their own parents give them? They shouldn’t, because no one is better than their parents, even when they say you are not my friend a slam the door.