During a recent chat with an aunt, she asked me if I ever regret adopting our five year old son.
The question caught me off guard.
She had not seen T in over a year and I was updating her on some recent challenges, including being confronted by an angry parent.
I told her without hesitation, “No. T is the best thing that’s happened to the hubby and I.”
And I meant it. Sure, he has challenging moments – almost on a daily basis – but there is so much love and joy we get back in return.
The question made me pause because it seemed so inappropriate.
But I didn’t make a fuss, because I know my aunt loves T. Her frankness is just part of age and the Asian bluntness.
Then I told my aunt T has recently developed a wonderful friendship with a 7-year-old boy and they’ve been playing together every day after daycare in the playground.
Surprised, she asked, “Is there something wrong with the boy too? Or is he normal?”
Again, if it wasn’t for me being used to Asian bluntness, I would’ve called out the inappropriate comment. I simply replied he seemed normal and added, “By the way, T is a normal child.”
Like, what does normal even mean?!
The conversation reminded me about the challenges that parents often have with helping their families understand the reality of raising a child with special needs.
First off, the hubby and I are very blessed to have families that love T. They may not fully understand the reality of raising a child with great potential but a prognosis of at-risk FASD but the love is undoubtable.
The hubby and I are very honest about T’s challenges. We don’t hide or sugarcoat things.
One area that was challenging in the beginning was making family members understand his challenging behaviour is a result of a brain-based disorder and not because he is a bad kid and that traditional types of discipline do not work.
I can’t count the number of times when our parents or uncles and aunts have tried to discipline or call T out for his behaviour.
One time another aunt tried to lecture T when he was having a meltdown and hit her. She later sent me an email saying that we needed to be on top of T’s behaviour or it’s going to get worse. She even bought me a book on parenting!
I responded in a lengthy email explaining T’s prognosis, explained the strategies we use – including riding out a meltdown instead of throwing fuel in the fire – and asked her to take our lead in the future.
My aunt is well intentioned and has raised a daughter with Down syndrome. So she understands special needs. What helped was giving her more information about T’s specific prognosis and once she understood more about it, she now takes our lead.
It’s important to set boundaries with family.
I am always grateful for the love that our family provides T, but the hubby and I are clear that we are T’s parents, so leave the parenting to us.
We tune out unsolicited parenting advice, parenting articles, and yes, parenting books too!
We focus our efforts instead on educating family – and friends, colleagues, school staff and others – about his needs and challenges.
We keep it real, because that’s important.
We also try to challenge stereotypes and labels about “special needs.”
T is a bright, funny and caring child. He has a tremendous spirit for adventure and he’s had many amazing life experiences already.
So many positives to celebrate. I want to remind people – not just family – to focus on these while keeping a proactive eye on the areas of need.
So when I think back to my recent conversation with my aunt, it reminds me that educating family is an important part of being the parent of a child with special needs.
These conversations may be tricky and sometimes cringe-worthy awkward, but they are worth the investment in time.