Special Needs Sunday

Column written by Dr. Pamela Deiter-Sands for Working Mother Media (she’s a local CT mom!)

Hey, Special-Needs Mom, who is thinking about your well-being in this upcoming holiday season?

At the holidays, we special-needs moms spend a lot of time trying to make people happy. After all, there are the kids, including special kids who may have many difficulties with the stress, excitement, disrupted routines, and dietary changes of the holidays. There may be a spouse. The spouse is likely to have parents and maybe step-parents, and the mom herself is likely to have parents and steps; there are probably brothers and/or sisters on both sides; nieces, nephews, cousins, neighbors; bosses, coworkers, clients and customers; and the whole special-kid team, including teachers, paras, sitters, therapists, advocates, aides, and others… and, if we are lucky, there are a few friends in the picture, too. These people will gather together, give and receive gifts and cards, prepare and enjoy feasts, drive long distances, fight, drink, gossip, pray, follow the rules of public behavior and try to be good guests (mostly), and generally carry on. We special moms and our families will be expected to participate. We moms are probably in charge of making that happen, and making our special family show up and fit in.

Probably few, if any, of these folks have thought through our needs, the special needs of our kids, and the complex needs of a special family during the holidays. That’s fine, as long as WE think about these needs, and feel comfortable and confident arranging things to that they work for us and our kids. But it would be so easy – so easy – for all of us special moms to be feel we must work to meet the needs, and fit into the plans, of many others, forgetting our own happiness.

Let me suggest something radical. As an exercise, place yourself first on your list of people to make happy this season. Practice finishing this sentence: “Here’s what will make the holidays happy for me…” Don’t censor yourself or limit yourself, just really tune in to your answers. Try this several times over a couple of days. Your answers may change a few times, but some themes will emerge. You may surprise yourself.

Maybe you need NOT to host a holiday meal. Maybe you need to stay away from the critical family members who do not understand your child. Maybe long car rides are out this year. Maybe you need to sleep more, give inexpensive gifts, make food as easy as possible, say no thanks to stressful invitations, spend a holiday at home with just your most beloved, get a sitter and live it up, have a massage, buy presents for yourself, take the kids and go to a hotel with a pool and a hot-tub for a night, watch your favorite holiday movie in the dark, after everybody else goes to bed, invite your best friend for a special lunch…maybe you need to throw away the expectations that you hold for yourself, let go of the idea that you must please others, and focus on some truly happy holidays for you.

We special moms need and deserve time to truly enjoy ourselves, especially during a season with so many demands on our time. Our special kids need and deserve time and space to enjoy life in the way that works for them – not the way that works for others in the extended family, not the way “Normal Rockwell” imagined a holiday – but the way that makes a special child feel that life is worth celebrating. We all need and deserve the opportunity to relax and take in happy times with the people we love most. Focusing on our own happiness, and letting go of our sense of responsibility for so many others, will help us diminish stress and spread joy through our families.

I wish you and your kids every happiness in the coming weeks. I hope you think of some great ways to truly enjoy yourself. Your happiness is important to the people who love you. Give them the wonderful gift of your holiday cheer, instead of running yourself ragged trying to meet every obligation and please every person on your list.

Thanks for trying so hard to make it work.