Remember way back when you brought your newborn home from the hospital? You were in complete awe with his or her tiny ears, fingers and mouth! You jumped at every new movement your baby made and celebrated it with pictures, and for some of you, probably even posted it on social media. I don’t know about you, but I often wonder when those feelings of gratitude and my desire to cherish every single moment of my child’s growth and development disappeared.

After twenty years of being a stay-at-home mom, I recently decided to enter the work force once again. Now, I have the honor of guiding, offering advice and celebrating with parents as they navigate the perpetual challenges of raising a child with special needs. What I’ve discovered is that these parents are actually teaching me how to be grateful for the everyday occurrences in the lives of my children. Through them, I realized that my ability to be grateful ceased when I became too focused on and overwhelmed by what I felt were the monumental milestones that my child with special needs wasn’t reaching.

First, I worried that my toddler wasn’t growing at a good rate. Then, I was concerned if he was making social connections to other kids in school. After that, I focused on whether or not my child was learning to read at the same rate as others, if he was on the “right” sports team, is he taking classes that are too easy or too difficult for him, will he be able to go to college or a trade school after high school, etc. Yes, I’ve lost a lot of sleep over the years! And what I learned from other parents of children with special needs is the importance of celebrating every milestone whenever they are reached—no matter how big or small they may seem. I have great admiration for these moms, dads and caregivers because they are doing what we all should be doing….appreciating every single moment with our child instead of worrying about what the end result will be.

I will never forget when I witnessed one of these moments during an activity in our Family Activity Center. For four weeks, I observed a small child with special needs striving to achieve what appeared to be an unsurmountable goal…trying to climb up a net ladder to reach the top of our snake slide.  Each week, his mother provided unyielding encouragement and acknowledgement that his efforts were someday going to be rewarded. Of course, she was excited when he was finally able to slide down by himself. But, she also expressed her pride and joy every time her son made it one foot or even one inch higher on that ladder. She wasn’t concerned that other children who were smaller and younger than her child were able to make the climb effortlessly. In other words, she wasn’t focused on what he couldn’t do, but rather what he could do. She celebrated each small victory! I propose that, as parents, we all take a lesson from this mom. Let’s stop worrying about the future and start living in the moment….each and every beautiful moment.

To quote author and motivational speaker Matthew Kelly, “We are at our best when we are grateful”. Regardless of whether we have a typically developing child or a child with a delay or special needs, we should all focus less on where we think our child should be compared to his or her peers and immerse ourselves into those miraculous feats that our children are churning out every single day.

By Jennifer Drechsler, Family Activity Center Coordinator

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