Melinda Smith, Parenting Coordinator
Parenting is a demanding job. It’s physically draining as you chase an active, exploring child. It’s mentally exhausting when you deal with discipline, mood swings and temper tantrums. Add to this the stressors of school, jobs, housing and navigating through some very complicated relationships and you get a sense of what our teen moms must shoulder. But there are a handful of exceptional moms at Hope House who tackle even more – they have a child with special needs.
The Parenting and Early Learning Programs have teamed up to offer these moms opportunities to meet, share experiences, and get support. The idea started during Parenting 101 class.
Sienna, one of the teen moms in attendance, shared about her daughter’s “specialties.” Sienna had taken her daughter’s challenges and reframed it in a way that focused on her daughter’s uniqueness and sent the message that she is precious beyond measure. Sienna spoke of medical appointments, daily injections and worries about ever placing her daughter in a childcare center if they aren’t equipped with what her daughter needs.
Another mom, Nayeli, told of the heart surgery her daughter had at a week old with a second surgery before she turned one. I sat and listened in awe as these young moms shared advanced knowledge of child development and medical issues. At Hope House, we often make referrals to Child Find or encourage moms to seek help from their pediatrician, but I knew we needed to do more for these moms.
We started with a special lunch for the moms who have a child with a chronic medical issue or who receive developmental services. It’s important for moms to share their stories and talk about how difficult it can be to get an official diagnosis, the judgments they may feel, and how it’s ok to feel that some days are more than they can handle. Often we aren’t looking for someone to fix our problems – just someone to acknowledge us and say, “That’s rough. I’m sorry you’re going through that.”
As each mom talked about her situation, there was a sense of relief. The moms also made a point to brag on their children. Those events that might seem insignificant — but a child with special needs who tries a new food or avoids a meltdown during speech therapy can be a major victory and deserves to be celebrated.
One of our moms who is still adjusting to her daughter’s autism diagnosis described it this way: “Having a group like this is amazing because I feel comfortable talking to other moms about my daughter and her special needs. It’s nice to know that others go through the same thing with their child. When I talk to anybody else they don’t understand, and it is a very touchy subject! In our group, we can all have a good laugh, shed a few tears, seek comfort and find great resources for our child’s needs without a single judgment from any mom.”
One positive result of the group was when Melissa, a teen mom whose son receives developmental services, requested that an Early Learning Teacher attend the next Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting at his school. Melissa has always been very independent in finding resources and helping other moms get connected. Asking for an advocate at an important meeting was a big step for her. Hope House staff loved that Melissa recognized our teachers know her son well and could speak into the discussion on his progress. When asked what this group meant to her, Melissa replied, “Knowing that we aren’t doing this alone and have other moms that we can lean on and ask for advice.”
By offering scheduled times throughout the year for these moms to meet, we have created support and a network of resources. It’s amazing how fast you can be an expert on having a child assessed, medical tests, paperwork, and therapeutic services once you’ve navigated that process. Hope House moms want to share everything they’ve learned so that another mom’s experience might be just a little bit easier.
It’s not just the children who have specialties – their moms are amazingly generous and helpful young women who bravely take on the biggest challenges in parenting.
As this new group continues to grow, we hope to plan some fun outings to local places that offer fun activities. Several museums offer sensory friendly play times and there are even gyms who are designed for children with special needs. Below are a few great local resources we plan to visit: