I am scrolling through a Facebook post rather intently when I realize that during this few minutes my son with autism is putting on his shoes independently. I quickly switch over to camera mode and start taking a video because this definitely doesn’t happen often. My eight-year-old son typically is very dependent on me to help him with just about everything.

I then decided to push him a little bit and hand him his toothbrush. He holds it a foot from his mouth and starts acting like he’s brushing. I can’t help but smile because he seems to know what to do but after a few minutes I intervene and help him brush his teeth.

One of the hardest things in my parenting journey has been figuring out how much to help my kids with special needs. I want my children to grow up and be independent and self-sufficient, but the mom side of me still wants to baby and take care of them. It makes it even harder that my two oldest boys were both born with autism so they both require more help than the average child. My younger two children are pretty good at letting me know when they can do it on their own. There are many times I have to back up and stop myself from taking over.

This is even harder when your child has autism and has limited communication abilities. As a special needs mama, you tend to become more protective and the “mama bear” instinct gets stronger. Finding the line between helping and letting them do it on their own is a big challenge. So what do you do?

 1. Let them struggle
First and foremost you must let them struggle. This is so hard for me because the second I see a struggle or a tear I want to swoop in and fix it all. I know this will not help them in the long run so I have to sit back and allow my children to struggle through their problems. The struggle will not only teach them to persevere through problems but it will help me better understand what training they need to become successful. As parents, we have to stop jumping in and fixing everything for them.

2. Limitations and teaching
By letting them struggle, I can decipher between their capabilities and their limitations. I know nobody likes to believe their child has limitations but children with special needs do. I am not saying their limitations mean they cannot learn to do something, but it might mean they need more training to get there. And it also might mean there are some things they won’t be able to do. Pay attention and figure out what they need to learn before they can be successful. Use this knowledge to practice that one skill. You might have to work up to the skill instead of trying to be successful all at once.

For example, I noticed with my son when he was putting on his shoes, he kept forgetting to pull out the tongue. I need to work with him on adding that step into the process of putting on his shoe. This doesn’t mean he cannot successfully put on his shoes, but he does need more training before he is independently doing it.

3. It won’t be your way
This one is hard for every mom out there. When your child starts doing things independently, it is rarely done the way you would have done it. When my seven-year-old was probably four, he decided he was going to start dressing himself. His clothes were typically backwards or inside out, and nothing ever matched. It drove me crazy—but I had to look at that beautiful little mess of a kid and congratulate him on doing it by himself. I’ll admit, it was hard. I have learned over the years though that when my kids do something independently, it will not look the way it would if I had done it. I’ve had to learn to get over this and let them do it their way.

4. Slow down and let them do it!
I almost always feel rushed. My life is filled with running from one errand or task to the next and everything seems to be spinning faster than I can keep up with. There are many times when I rush to put my son’s shoes on for him because we are in a hurry. If I expect my children to learn these skills, then I need to give them time to practice. Slow down and give them time.

5. Watch for signs of shutdown
While struggle is good, there is a point at which you might have to step back. I notice this a lot in my 10-year-old with autism. There is a fine line between a productive struggle and a frustrated meltdown. I have to be careful not to cross that line or he will shut down. You know your child and as parents we have to learn to watch for signs that it is no longer a productive struggle. For my son, we’ve reached it when he starts getting frustrated and upset. He starts giving up and is not making progress. During a productive struggle, he might have trouble but he is still trying and focused on the task.

I don’t like to jump in immediately when my children start to struggle but if I see them going downhill into shutdown mode, I will. I make it a point to do as little as I can so that most of the task is still on them to complete.

There is a fine line between letting your children do things on their own and knowing when they actually need mom’s help. As parents, it is our job to prepare them for adulthood and to do this, we have to let go (even us moms of kids with special needs need to let them go sometimes). The level of independence a child can realistically achieve will be different for every child but we will never know how much they can achieve until we stop doing everything for them.

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Check out our new Keepsake Companion Journal that pairs with our So God Made a Mother book!

Order Now
So God Made a Mother's Story Keepsake Journal

Christina Herzog

I am a mom to four children and a new stay-at-home mom. Two of my children have autism and my greatest passion has been to fight for them. I feel like I have been called to educate others on what it is like to be a special needs parent.

I Thought Our Friendship Would Be Unbreakable

In: Friendship, Journal, Relationships
Two friends selfie

The message notification pinged on my phone. A woman, once one of my best friends, was reaching out to me via Facebook. Her message simply read, “Wanted to catch up and see how life was treating you!”  I had very conflicting feelings. It seemed with that one single message, a flood of memories surfaced. Some held some great moments and laughter. Other memories held disappointment and hurt of a friendship that simply had run its course. Out of morbid curiosity, I clicked on her profile page to see how the years had been treating her. She was divorced and still...

Keep Reading

The First 10 Years: How Two Broken People Kept Their Marriage from Breaking

In: Journal, Marriage, Relationships
The First Ten Years: How Two Broken People Kept Their Marriage from Breaking www.herviewfromhome.com

We met online in October of 2005, by way of a spam email ad I was THIS CLOSE to marking as trash. Meet Single Christians! My cheese alert siren sounded loudly, but for some reason, I unchecked the delete box and clicked through to the site. We met face-to-face that Thanksgiving. As I awaited your arrival in my mother’s kitchen, my dad whispered to my little brother, “Hide your valuables. Stacy has some guy she met online coming for Thanksgiving dinner.” We embraced for the first time in my parents’ driveway. I was wearing my black cashmere sweater with the...

Keep Reading

To The Mother Who Is Overwhelmed

In: Inspiration, Motherhood
Tired woman with coffee sitting at table

I have this one head. It is a normal sized head. It didn’t get bigger because I had children. Just like I didn’t grow an extra arm with the birth of each child. I mean, while that would be nice, it’s just not the case. We keep our one self. And the children we add on each add on to our weight in this life. And the head didn’t grow more heads because we become a wife to someone. Or a boss to someone. We carry the weight of motherhood. The decisions we must make each day—fight the shorts battle...

Keep Reading

You’re a Little Less Baby Today Than Yesterday

In: Journal, Motherhood
Toddler sleeping in mother's arms

Tiny sparkles are nestled in the wispy hair falling across her brow, shaken free of the princess costume she pulled over her head this morning. She’s swathed in pink: a satiny pink dress-up bodice, a fluffy, pink, slightly-less-glittery-than-it-was-two-hours-ago tulle skirt, a worn, soft pink baby blanket. She’s slowed long enough to crawl into my lap, blinking heavy eyelids. She’s a little less baby today than she was only yesterday.  Soon, she’ll be too big, too busy for my arms.  But today, I’m rocking a princess. The early years will be filled with exploration and adventure. She’ll climb atop counters and...

Keep Reading

Dear Husband, I Loved You First

In: Marriage, Motherhood, Relationships
Man and woman kissing in love

Dear husband, I loved you first. But often, you get the last of me. I remember you picking me up for our first date. I spent a whole hour getting ready for you. Making sure every hair was in place and my make-up was perfect. When you see me now at the end of the day, the make-up that is left on my face is smeared. My hair is more than likely in a ponytail or some rat’s nest on the top of my head. And my outfit, 100% has someone’s bodily fluids smeared somewhere. But there were days when...

Keep Reading

Stop Being a Butthole Wife

In: Grief, Journal, Marriage, Relationships
Man and woman sit on the end of a dock with arms around each other

Stop being a butthole wife. No, I’m serious. End it.  Let’s start with the laundry angst. I get it, the guy can’t find the hamper. It’s maddening. It’s insanity. Why, why, must he leave piles of clothes scattered, the same way that the toddler does, right? I mean, grow up and help out around here, man. There is no laundry fairy. What if that pile of laundry is a gift in disguise from a God you can’t (yet) see? Don’t roll your eyes, hear me out on this one. I was a butthole wife. Until my husband died. The day...

Keep Reading

I Can’t Be Everyone’s Chick-fil-A Sauce

In: Friendship, Journal, Living, Relationships
woman smiling in the sun

A couple of friends and I went and grabbed lunch at Chick-fil-A a couple of weeks ago. It was delightful. We spent roughly $20 apiece, and our kids ran in and out of the play area barefoot and stinky and begged us for ice cream, to which we responded, “Not until you finish your nuggets,” to which they responded with a whine, and then ran off again like a bolt of crazy energy. One friend had to climb into the play tubes a few times to save her 22-month-old, but it was still worth every penny. Every. Single. One. Even...

Keep Reading

Love Notes From My Mother in Heaven

In: Faith, Grief, Journal, Living
Woman smelling bunch of flowers

Twelve years have passed since my mother exclaimed, “I’ve died and gone to Heaven!” as she leaned back in her big donut-shaped tube and splashed her toes, enjoying the serenity of the river.  Twelve years since I stood on the shore of that same river, 45 minutes later, watching to see if the hopeful EMT would be able to revive my mother as she floated toward his outstretched hands. Twelve years ago, I stood alone in my bedroom, weak and trembling, as I opened my mother’s Bible and all the little keepsakes she’d stowed inside tumbled to the floor.  It...

Keep Reading

Sometimes Friendships End, No Matter How Hard You Try

In: Friendship, Journal, Relationships
Sad woman alone without a friend

I tried. We say these words for two reasons. One: for our own justification that we made an effort to complete a task; and two: to admit that we fell short of that task. I wrote those words in an e-mail tonight to a friend I had for nearly 25 years after not speaking to her for eight months. It was the third e-mail I’ve sent over the past few weeks to try to reconcile with a woman who was more of a sister to me at some points than my own biological sister was. It’s sad when we drift...

Keep Reading

Goodbye to the House That Built Me

In: Grown Children, Journal, Living, Relationships
Ranch style home as seen from the curb

In the winter of 1985, while I was halfway done growing in my mom’s belly, my parents moved into a little brown 3 bedroom/1.5 bath that was halfway between the school and the prison in which my dad worked as a corrections officer. I would be the first baby they brought home to their new house, joining my older sister. I’d take my first steps across the brown shag carpet that the previous owner had installed. The back bedroom was mine, and mom plastered Smurf-themed wallpaper on the accent wall to try to get me to sleep in there every...

Keep Reading