Holidays are Hard :: Confessions from a Special Needs Mom

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READING TIME: 4 min.

We planned the kids’ costumes months ago. The planning for Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities is almost done. Trust me, I don’t operate this way because I want to. I operate this way because I feel like I have to. 

I’m not an over-achieving mom. I’m not a stay-at-home mom. I’m not even a Pinterest mom. Instead, I am a mom to a child with special needs.

Fall Family Picture

Special-Needs Parenting During Holidays

Special-needs parenting on a regular day is demanding, but special-needs parenting during the holidays takes it to a completely different level. Family dinners, neighborhood gatherings, shopping trips, and travel plans require a certain amount of preparation that didn’t exist for us before. Preparation is how I try to avoid most meltdowns. Even something as simple as trick-or-treating requires weeks of practice.

What I’ve learned in our almost five years of navigating this experience is that the holidays can be happy and hard. I oscillate between thankful and sad. It’s a time of celebration and a time that can serve as a slap-in-the-face reminder of just how different my family is compared to most. It feels as if life is more complicated, and sometimes that just seems unfair. 

To the mommas who are in the trenches of special-needs parenting with me, my biggest hope is that your support system gets it. I hope you have places or people where you can exist without apology. May your holidays offer up moments of magic despite the sometimes daunting differences special needs parenting requires.

Showing Support to Special-Needs Families

If you’re a family member or friend to someone who is working really hard at raising a child with special needs, my biggest hope is that you think about one way you can support this mom. Ask her the questions that you need answers to in order to help. Trust that whatever she does with her child is the best choice, even if you don’t understand. 

Families like mine aren’t looking for sympathy. Please, don’t feel sorry for us. Instead, we want understanding and acceptance that surpasses judgment and criticism. I asked moms who are also raising a child with special needs what they wished their families and friends could acknowledge that would make the holidays easier. Here is what some shared:

Please know that we still deeply value our friendships, but we may not be able to be the same kind of friends we were before autism came into our lives.” – Sarah from Colleyville, TX

“​​If [my] child just eats a roll and nothing else for the holiday meal. Keep your comments to yourself.” – Kelly from Plano, TX

Before a family event that you may be hosting, think about reaching out to the parents of a special needs child ahead of time to ask what kind of support you may be able to offer. Ask the parent(s) what you may be able to do to make the event more accommodating to their child.” – Anonymous 

I don’t care if you make the best macaroni and cheese from scratch or if you slaved all day in the kitchen, he is not going to eat it! He’s not going to try one bite. So please do not be offended or continue to make comments when I bring a Kraft macaroni and cheese cup and frozen popcorn chicken. Yours is not the right brand, the right consistency, or the right color. No, he’s not spoiled. No, he doesn’t need to eat what everybody else is eating, and NO he will not eventually learn to eat the same as everybody else if we make him.” – Jessie from Valley View, TX

“I’m so tired of being lectured about ‘age-appropriate’ gifts. If my teenager wants Paw Patrol toys, that’s what I’m getting her! Your nail polish and makeup kits you insist she should have will go unused and will be donated.” – Robin from Lewisville, TX

“Please ask consent before going in for a hug or kiss. Many autistic kids have sensory sensitivities and may also simply feel overwhelmed at a chaotic family gathering. Always ask before entering their space and don’t take it personally if they refuse. They can still love you deeply and not want to show it physically.” – Anonymous

And then, there was this comment.

“I’ve been very lucky. Thank you to my in-laws for knowing each kid’s favorite food and making sure it was available, especially at holidays. Thank you for making your house kid-friendly and just putting away things that were precious without saying anything. Thank you for having lots of outdoor play equipment and a yard where there was nothing they had to be kept away from. Thank you for loving all your grandchildren equally, knowing each one’s peculiarities, and treating each one like a treasure to be cherished.” – Erica from Dallas, TX

As the hustle and bustle of the holiday season commences, I remind myself to operate from a place of grace, kindness, and fair expectation. I’m not an over-achieving mom. I’m not a stay-at-home mom. I’m not even a Pinterest mom. Instead, I am a mom to a child with special needs. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

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