I often wish I could hit the rewind button on my special needs parenting journey, which is why I love helping families with children who are newly diagnosed. It’s an amazing opportunity to offer perspective I didn’t have 10 years ago. My child doesn’t directly benefit from that, but as we change stigmas and help others, we make life healthier for all unique learners and their families. I am passionate about helping to create a kinder, more empathic world for every child who thinks and learns differently.
I wish could go back in time to tell my 38-year-old self that everything was going to be OK. In fact, there are many things I wish I could have told her. Such as:
- You will get past potty training.
- There will be days that you shine again.
- There will be days when worry isn’t the only emotion you feel.
- Your child will be OK without your every nudge or prompt.
There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently. Such as:
- Pushed harder at my sons first IEP meetings. And said no until they agreed to what I knew was best for my child.
- Found the money to keep him in a private preschool and pushed for 100 percent inclusion.
- Hired an experienced special education attorney to fight the “early wars” for me. The money I would have invested then would have saved me tens of thousands later.
- Had him diagnosed a year earlier, when I already knew in my heart that he had Autism.
I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself and gave myself more credit. Other things I wish I had done for my own peace of mind and mental health:
- Taken more days off to do things that were easy
- Hired a cleaning lady
- Always accepted help from family
- Laughed more and enjoyed my child’s quirky features (they are some of his best gifts!)
- Hadn’t been so scared
- Trusted my own instincts
- Given myself permission to be selfish
- Loved and forgiven myself more
Looking backwards allows me to look ahead and do better. I am thankful that I hung on tight to my marriage. I was determined to stay invested because I know firsthand the lifelong devastation of divorce. But it’s a battle to hold on when every breath is dedicated to helping your child. I wish things could have been better in our relationship during the worst five years when all we did was therapy. For instance, I wish:
- I hadn’t been so bitter when my husband failed me.
- I made myself more available to him.
- We had been on the same side of the globe emotionally, but our hearts were more distant than united.
As I age, I realize how much harder it is to get anything done. At times I feel disconnected from my body and I can’t seem to connect with it. Sometimes I feel like my brain and body are not even in the same space. I wish I had trusted God early on with all He gave me. My occasional lack of faith was a gigantic obstacle because I allowed my anxiety to be bigger than my faith. I am better now and know that I am never alone.
Though I can’t change the past, I have battled like a warrior and gained valuable perspective. Perhaps my experiences will encourage other parents to make changes that help alleviate daily struggles.
Melanie K. Milicevic is a former teacher and passionate writer who hopes to be a voice for families with special needs. She lives in San Diego with her husband and two children.