Motherhood begins long before we hold our children in our arms. Some of us have been dreaming of rocking a newborn since we were in grade school while others grew up in dysfunctional environments that had us thinking, “I’ll never treat my kids this way . . .” while falling asleep.
We witnessed toddler tantrums in grocery stores or relatives who struggle through missed naps or potty training and think, “My kids would never . . .” For years, we’ve had Pinterest boards dedicated to the nursery we’ll design, the crafts we’ll make together, and the family pictures we’ll blissfully take one day (in an untouched field with perfect weather and dreamy lighting).
By now, we can all laugh at how different motherhood has turned out to be from how we imagined it. We can admit to the compromises we’ve made and the embarrassing tantrums, habits, and phases our kids did, in fact, go through. We’ve traded the pride we felt at the moms we’d be for humility at the moms we really are, and now we’re a lot more realistic that raising kids is nowhere near as simple as we thought.
But sometimes, some moms have to go a step further.
Sometimes, in addition to the horror at realizing your child did bite another or your 4-year-old did still need Pull-Ups, in addition to the humbling that comes from your children not meeting your expectations, there comes the reality that your child doesn’t meet society’s expectations either.
Sometimes the shock to the system comes not from what your child did do, but from a pediatrician pointing out what they can’t.
Rather than recognizing you can’t parent the way you always dreamed, you have to recognize that you can’t parent without help. Professional help.
Your child needs therapies. Medications. Interventions. Evaluations. Accommodations.
Few mothers begin their journeys knowing their child will need help beyond us kissing their scraped knees and cutting the crusts off their sandwiches, and for every mother whose child needs a little extra, the moment when they realize it is different. Maybe a teacher brought some behavior issues to your attention. Maybe some bloodwork came back abnormal. Maybe you knew your mother struggled with mental illness, and you’d been hyper-aware of the similarities and signs your child was exhibiting, but you kept hoping they were temporary quirks. Whenever the moment came, or if you’re still praying it doesn’t, there comes a rush of emotions.
Sadness. Defeat. Shame. Fear.
Questioning. Anger. Determination.
Knowing your child needs the help of a professional calls upon the mother to make a phone call she never imagined. It’s hard to admit to yourself that you can’t just read a parenting blog and see all the change your child needs, and it’s nearly impossible to admit you need the help of someone you’ve never even met.
Who is this stranger on the other end of the line? Will they get my child? Are they up-to-date and well-informed on their needs, conditions, syndromes? Will my child even like them? How much will this cost? How often will appointments be? Do I need to share this diagnosis or therapy with others? What will people think?
That last thought is usually whispered in the dark, shamefully but sincerely.
We never planned to be here. We never knew we’d have to be aware of the best local specialists or the school accommodations available. We’re so deeply, achingly proud of our children . . . but will others still see him the same? Will they blame me, my parenting, my genes for her different needs?
Making that first call is never just informational, never just to set an appointment. It’s saying, out loud, that you need help, your child needs help, that your parenting, however superb, just won’t be sufficient not because your parenting wasn’t enough but because your child has needs beyond your abilities.
Making that first call is humbling, the beginning step of a journey that will, eventually, make you into the most seasoned of experts. First, though, before you become the advocate, before you are a force to be reckoned with, you are timid, unsure, uninitiated. It’s hard to be the newb, the rookie, especially when it comes to your child. It’s hard enough to ask for help, but asking for help with the creature you are most proud of, most connected to, most hopeful for . . . it’s transformative.
You are allowed to grieve when making that call.
Your child’s future and your own are suddenly wiped, changed—requiring the use of a map you may not have even known existed. You are allowed to feel every bit of emotion that bubbles up as you search for local offices, dial the unfamiliar number, and block out a day on the calendar for that first appointment. You’re even allowed to put it off for a few days as you wrap your head around all of the change headed your way. You are allowed to feel and think, cry and rage. You are allowed to be human in this process that surely requires you to be superhuman.
All that matters, mama, is to take a breath and eventually, make that call.