This repost is by Kay Marner, the co-editor of Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories. Through editing the book Kay found a pattern in the experience of parenting children with neurobehavioral special needs. She frames it as the experience of an everyparent, “Eve.”
When I was pregnant with my first child, I spent untold hours with my nose in the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
Throughout my son Aaron’s first year of life, What to Expect the First Year was always close at hand, on the table by the rocking chair where I fed Aaron, sang to him, read to him, and rocked him to sleep for naps and bedtimes. Then, before I knew it, I’d switched to What to Expect the Toddler Years.
Sound familiar? Do you remember those days? Wasn’t it magically reassuring to follow along—and even read ahead–in books that explained every stage of development, and answered every possible question—sometimes before we knew to ask it?
Things were different with my second child. She gestated on the other side of the world, in the uterus of a stranger. She probably didn’t benefit from prenatal vitamins, and regular check-ups by a smart, charmingly shy young OB/GYN. She wasn’t carried to term, and delivered in a clean, modern hospital. She didn’t spend her “First Year” and “Toddler Years” cared for by loving parents, extended family, and Millie, at her in-home daycare, when Mom worked.
We adopted our second child, Natalie, from an orphanage in Russia, when she was 2 ½ years old. The stark realities of suspected prenatal exposure to alcohol, a premature, unattended birth, malnutrition, lack of stimulation, and disease contrasted bleakly with the happy, healthy, normal development of her big brother, our birth child. When we brought Natalie home, there was no way to know “What to Expect.” The guides to parenting this child, though insightful, described a process of development and an outcome—a reality–that I was unwilling to accept for my new daughter.
Eight years have passed since I began parenting this child, with no official guide. Aaron has continued to thrive; surpassing expected developmental tasks at every stage. He plays baseball and basketball, gets good grades, and enjoys a great group of friends. Natalie has made amazing strides too, and is a loving, engaging, spitfire of a child. But, Natalie has ADHD with a handful of comorbid conditions. I research and network daily, in hopes of finding any useful parenting guidance at all, much less a comprehensive, reliable, accurate parenting guide.
Your personal story is likely quite different from mine. But, if, like me, you are parenting a child with special needs, then, at some point, your child also strayed significantly from typical developmental,behavioral, or academic norms. So you know how it feels to go without a guide, into uncharted parenting territory. Frightening, anxiety provoking. Desperate. Exhausting. Confusing.
What if I were to tell you that there’s a woman you can turn to, who will share her personal story of parenting a child with special needs, and that her story will predict and explain the many feelings, stages, and experiences that you will likely go through in your special needs parenting journey, from the time your child is an infant through early adulthood. This woman, Eve, isn’t real—she’s an archetype; a construct–all the more “real” for having grown from the truths-in-common of 35 such parents who contributed their stories to our book Easy to Love but Hard to Raise. How might you feel to “meet” this woman; Eve? Relieved. Reassured. Empowered. Less isolated and alone.
Read part 2 of this series here.