Dear Grandparents, Aunts & Uncles, and The Guy Your Cousin Always Has Hanging Around But You’re Not Sure What the Deal Is:
It’s me. Your family member with a child that has additional needs. I thought we could have a heart to heart before we drown ourselves in Christmas Cheer and ham.
Every year during the holiday season, I watch two versions of social media unfold within my special needs community. There are the public family pictures with smiles and endearing anecdotes, and then there are the behind the scenes messages in our private groups. Whatever the story and scenario, it ends with mom after mom feeling hurt and isolated by the very people who are supposed to be loving and supporting her unconditionally: The Family.
As parents of kids with additional needs, we have learned how to manage “our world” with The World, but it never fails that the holidays become tricky. I want to offer some advice on behalf of those of us balancing between both worlds so that we all enjoy our time together.
I Am Not Trying to Be Difficult
Listen, I would prefer my child be able to gorge himself with whatever he wants at the holiday table as much as you do. I know food restrictions make things difficult when planning a big meal, whether they are because of allergies, sensitivities, or aversions. Your table isn’t the first one that we have had to supplement with food he will and/or can eat, and it won’t be the last. We don’t expect you to cater to our child’s specific needs, heck, we don’t expect you to agree with them, we only ask that you respect them.
I promise I do not sit up at night thinking of ways to make my child feel even more excluded than he already does by keeping certain foods from him. However, I do sit up half the night, researching and reading. I listen to the professionals on my child’s team and I do what I think is best for my child….just as you did when you were raising littles.
Our Shortened Visit is NOT Personal
I want to sit up with the grownups and catch up as much as the rest of you, but that may not be in the cards. I know my child and her threshold for change. Yes, one extended visit “isn’t going to kill her”, but this isn’t just about the visit. This is about the last month. School schedules are off because of plays and parties, and then it closes for an extended period. Routine is thrown out the window. Parents that work are at home more and there’s probably a tree sitting in our living room. A *tree*.
Whatever it is, it’s more than the snapshot you are seeing. If I have to choose between an extra day of memories and my child having one piece of her routine in place, I’m choosing her wants over mine.
Trust Me When It Comes to My Kid
Whether you are close to him or only see him a few times a year, trust me when I give you info about my kid. If you ask what he wants for Christmas and I tell you he really only wants Crest brand toothpaste, please don’t be miffed when he is not interested in the binoculars you got him. If I remind you that he doesn’t like to be touched, please don’t insist on a hug, “because it’s polite”. What is polite is respecting people’s boundaries.
Offer a Hand Rather Than a Suggestion
All of us have heard the same suggestions about our children. I know it comes from a good place (most of the time), but in short: Yes, we have tried that. No, it isn’t a discipline issue. Rather than suggestions, please, offer us a hand or extend some grace. If my child is having a meltdown, or I look like I’m at my wit’s end because I’ve been negotiating one bite of a chicken nugget for two hours like it’s a hostage crisis, please set your opinions aside.
The best thing you can do in those moments is to say, “how can I support you?”. In those harried moments, it’s nice to know that judgments have been cast aside and support is ready and waiting. It may be all I need to recharge my own batteries and help my child recharge as well.
On a final note, if you don’t know, just ask. It’s much better than walking into hushed whispers and glances. Let’s talk over Christmas Cheer and ham while my kiddo revels in her toothpaste haul.