There’s a tiredness that is understood to come with motherhood. It’s a mixture of physical and emotional exhaustion that evolves over 18 years.  It’s physical, sleepless nights that turn to worry-filled ones in time. It’s nursing infants, schlepping strollers, chasing toddlers, carpooling to little league, feeding the neighborhood after the game, trying to remember algebra to help your daughter, and looking at a sleeping teenager whose feet hang off the couch and wondering when your boy became as tall as you.  It’s hard but rewarding. It has no roadmap but clear peaks and valleys. It’s well defined, understood by most, and sustainable.    

Then, there’s a tiredness experienced by special needs parents. It’s invisible.  

It’s the universal experience of motherhood with added responsibilities—like measuring medicines that are the difference between life and death, getting your child to and from daily therapies, schlepping their adaptive equipment, and having to pack what feels like a suitcase of medical supplies just to go to the grocery store.

It is the kind of tired coffee can’t fix. The kind of “tired” you wake up with.

It’s bills that never get opened and voicemails that go unanswered. Not because you don’t care, but because you can’t care.

You can’t add another “to do” or “to pay” to the list.   

So, you leave them be.

It’s friends you never call. Not because you don’t long for their company but because “grabbing coffee” involves more planning than you have energy for.

It’s waking up with your 12-year-old four and five times a night.

It’s not waking up with her because you’re scared if you close your eyes, she won’t wake up.

It’s weeks on end spent inside hospital walls, hoping your other two children don’t resent you for missing their homeruns, touchdowns, and awards assemblies.

It’s hoping your child lives forever while worrying about what happens if her “forever” is longer than yours.

But it’s a tiredness you can’t speak of. Because it runs so deep it’s engrained in you, and because it’s a tiredness too alienating to speak of.

It’s expected that new mamas are physically tired. And seasoned mamas are emotionally worn out. But not special needs parents. We assume their child’s illness gives them superpowers. We ask a new mom how she’s sleeping. We tell a special needs mom we couldn’t do what she does. Not because we don’t care, but because we don’t realize how tired she is.

We don’t realize it because when we look at her, she’s “got it together.”
She’s cheering as her near-teenager takes her first steps.
She’s whipping up gluten-free everything, advocating for inclusion at school, and celebrating victories God only knows how hard she fought for.     

She’s not crying in a corner.

But maybe it’s because she’s too tired to.

Parenting is exhausting. And I don’t share this to say special needs parents do it better. I share it to say they do it for longer and without a roadmap.

And because they do it so well, they make it look easy. But it isn’t.

And a pat on their back, a cup of coffee, or the words “I’m here” might just be the light their path needs.

You may also like: 

To the Special Needs Mom Who Sits Alone

Dear God, I’m Just So Tired

Moms Hardly Sleep But That’s Not Why We’re So Tired


So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available for pre-order now!

Pre-Order Now

Cara Arnold

I’m a mama to 3 whose learning to balance parenthood and chronic illness at the hands of autoimmune encephalitis. Some days I’m a soccer mom, carpooling like a boss; other days I’m a relentless advocate, taking on doctors and insurance companies alike. But, if you’re looking for consistency every day I’m a hot mess. My life is a puzzle that’s still not together. I used to think pieces were missing. But it's all finally fitting together. It’s not what I envisioned, and some days I mourn that; but it’s mine. And knowing how fast that can change I try to appreciate every moment of it.

Spanking Made Us Parents We Didn’t Want To Be

In: Faith, Motherhood
Silhouette of mother pointing finger at child

Fourteen years ago when my husband and I were preparing for our first child, we felt we already had several tools in our toolbox. Both of us worked with children and youth, and we felt prepared for parenting. We decided early on that we would never spank unless we were completely out of options.  As our bright, sweet, bubbly firstborn entered the terrible fours (yes, he was a bit delayed in his toddler rebellion), we were surrounded by a community of people who believed in “controlled spanking” with hugs and grace afterward.  RELATED: These 6 Words Transformed Discipline in Our...

Keep Reading

Let Your Kids See Your Feelings Too

In: Motherhood
Mother and daughter hugging on couch

I’m a mom to two exceptional kids–one with big emotions and one with a big heart. What that looks like in our house is an older child who is prone to outbursts and a younger child who’s always trying to help him through them. As we witness our younger son become more empathetic in response to his brother’s tantrums, we find ourselves constantly worrying that he is feeling overshadowed, relentlessly reassuring him there’s enough room for his feelings too. RELATED: Mothering a Child With Big Emotions is Heavy And what I’ve come to realize is that one of the best...

Keep Reading

Once Upon a Time You Got All of Me

In: Marriage, Motherhood
Husband and wife on wedding day, color photo

First there was us, and now it’s them. We have four little hands that need us, and it’s so hard to get lost in parenthood and forget that at once upon a time it was me and you. I promise you, it won’t always be like this. It won’t always be this hard. I remember when we would go for leisurely walks and long Sunday brunches. Now it takes us an hour to leave the house for a 15-minute walk. I want so badly to spend hours lying in bed, talking like we used to, but now I’m so tired...

Keep Reading

I Was Raised by an Easter-Only Mom and I Want More for My Kids

In: Faith, Motherhood
Mother and daughter read Bible

Motherhood is not for the faint-hearted, and women tend to look to their upbringing for guidance. We may not even realize we’re doing it! But being a godly mother is even more difficult when you weren’t raised by one. The questions are endless: How do I model forgiveness? How do I set the right priorities for my household? How do I explain baptism to my 6-year-old? Is it okay to have undiscipled friends around my children? Do we have to pray over every meal? Is the occasional swear word acceptable?  These questions may be less intimidating if you were fortunate enough...

Keep Reading

We’ll Get Through Daddy’s Deployment Together

In: Living, Motherhood
Mother, father, daughter selfie, color photo

“I didn’t think we did that anymore.” I wish I could attribute that to one person, but I’ve heard it from multiple people when I’ve mentioned that my pilot-soldier National Guard husband is deploying overseas. Yes, we still do that. Men and women still suit up every day to carry out various missions, both valuable and confusing, around the country and the world. And for the whole of 2023 that includes my husband. My partner, my co-adventurer. The one who will use our flight and hotel benefits from his day job to visit Hawaii for three days on a pre-deployment...

Keep Reading

Our College Visit Disaster: What You Should Learn from My Mistakes

In: Grown Children, Motherhood, Teen
Mom and teen daughter selfie, color photo

With a song in my heart, I got in the car to drive my daughter to our first college visit.  We drove two hours to a school nestled in the mountains. It was a state school, not too big, not too small.  She knew plenty of alumni from her high school who attended there, and I was convinced it was going to be the perfect fit. We pulled up to the student center, and I jumped out of the car. I glanced around for her and realized she was still sitting in the car.  “Mom, I’m not getting out. I ...

Keep Reading

I Was Never Good Enough for My Mother, So I’m Done Trying

In: Living, Motherhood
Woman walking away

I’m on a path in life that is so different from what I ever imagined growing up. It’s a path I’m not even sure I consciously choose. And it’s a path that exhausts me. I grew up with a narcissistic mother, and I was the scapegoat. No matter how I tried, I could never gain my mother’s love. It was love that was tainted with conditions and taken away at any time—and that was often. And thus, I tried harder. Best grades, best behavior, cleanest room. It never worked. I was too fat. My thighs were huge—make sure they were...

Keep Reading

Even When it Feels Like I Can’t, I Keep Going

In: Faith, Motherhood
Tired mom holding toddler

When I feel like I can’t do one more thing. When I am overwhelmed and touched out and lost in the logistics of it all. When my physical and mental energy are depleted. When the length of my to-do list needs more hours than I have. When I am so bone tired that I’m sure I just can’t go on. And there is still more to do. And the only choice is to keep going– I keep going. I dig a little deeper and find strength I didn’t know I had. RELATED: Check on Your “Strong” Friend, She’s Faking it...

Keep Reading

I Am an Immigrant Mom

In: Living, Motherhood
Mother and toddler in sunshine

I have many moments of What did I get myself into? during the day, especially when one of my kids is screaming at the top of his lungs and the other is having a make-believe experiment in the kitchen. We’ve heard countless times that raising kids is hard, but raising kids as a first-generation immigrant is harder. Obviously, there is no competition for who has more struggles or whose life is harder because child rearing is hard. Period. But this piece is specifically aimed at shedding some light on the unsung heroes, our so-called, first-gen immigrants raising kids in a...

Keep Reading

What Happens When She Wants Another Baby and He Does Not?

In: Faith, Marriage, Motherhood
Husband and wife, pregnancy photo, color photo

I am on my knees, folded over, with my head resting on the carpet. I am in my closet, which doesn’t see much of the vacuum, and it is the only place I can find to sob out of sight. I feel hollowed out and defeated as if I have run a marathon and was cut short at the finish line. I cry out in prayer, pleading with God to soften the heart of my husband. I desperately want another child, and he desperately does not. I take a deep breath and dry my eyes because my 4-year-old outside the...

Keep Reading