When the holidays are hard as a special needs parent.
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There is something about this time of year that gets me all nostalgic. I love Christmas. I love giving, I love teaching my kids about baby Jesus, I love the cheesy music and the traditions. Growing up, we didn’t live near much family so I CRAVED the day that I’d have a huge family with lots of Christmas dinners, loud parties, tons of presents and sugar cookies. I had it all planned out. I was going to be the mom with the Elf on the Shelf, baking cookies with my kids round the clock, heading out to all the Christmas tree lightings and the electric light parades. I had it all planned and it was going to be AMAZING.

Fast forward to life with more kids than arms and it does NOT look like this, and you know what? It’s OK.

I remember when Scott and I had just started dating, Mason was about 2. We would have family dinners at his parents house and it was a battle with Mason the entire time. He needed to be in my lap while we ate, regardless of the fact that I didn’t let him sit in my lap to eat ever. When we weren’t eating, he was bouncing off the walls, running from place to place with no real focus. He didn’t play with toys unless it had a screen or was a ball so it was basically impossible to ENJOY the time without worry that he was breaking all the things!

When Christmas rolled around, more people would come, other children were invited to dinner. We’d walk in, if we even made it in the door, and Mason would meltdown. Once he even ran away from the car in the driveway, in the middle of winter, snow covering the ground. If he wasn’t melting down, he spent the first hour or more hiding in some small space he would find to avoid contact with anyone new. He wanted so badly to play with the other kids, but when he did, he often misunderstood social situations and ended up in tears. Christmas gatherings bring late nights, which means our schedule and routine is thrown off. Which then means that we are paying for this lack of sleep, increased excitement and change of schedule for DAYS afterwards. We like to call that a party hangover. Trust me when I say a REAL hangover is much more fun.

In addition to all this that Mason was struggling with, Scott and I got to field the snide remarks, the “meant to be funny” comments, the judgement and misunderstanding. “If that was my kid,” or “he will grow out of it,” “have you tried to avoid sugar,” “maybe you need to be harder on him.” As if I wasn’t hard enough on myself as a parent, these types of comments HURT and only further pushed me to blame myself.

This isn’t what I imagined Christmas to be. This isn’t what I had planned. We tried to visit Mall Santa once, and I left carrying Mason out by an arm and a leg while he screamed. I felt like a failure as a mother.

Here’s the thing though, those comments, the judgy eyes, the “traditional” Christmas fun that we sometimes have to miss out on… has ZERO to do with my parenting abilities or yours mama. If this was a parenting issue, you would have fixed it by now. If this was a parenting issue, you wouldn’t have diagnosis after diagnosis, IEPs or 504s. You wouldn’t be spending your free time reading every single article with advice on how to make this better for him. This isn’t about you.

Christmas nowadays looks a lot different. I’ve learned to ignore passive aggressive comments. I’ve taken the time to educate extended family on what works for my family, and I am NOT apologetic about leaving a party early because that is what my child needs. I tell you all the time, YOU are the expert on your child and that doesn’t end at the IEP table. When Mason needs a minute away from the crowd before he joins a party, I let everyone know to give him space. We discuss options for where to go when he’s feeling overwhelmed. And when he’s had enough and we need to go, we leave. We may be missing out on mall santa or Christmas parades. The memories of traditions I have growing up will be different for my kids, but the FEELING of Christmas is the same. They look forward to each day we schedule with family to celebrate, because multiple celebrations in one day is too much. They look forward to sugar cookies, gingerbread houses and the first snow cream of the season. They love cuddling up with hot chocolate and watching Christmas movies together. We don’t Elf or visit a ton of holiday themed places, but this is NORMAL to them and they LOVE Christmas right along with me. When they look back and remember Christmas, they won’t remember the meltdowns or what they asked Mall Santa for that year. They won’t remember the rushing around or being sad that they didn’t get to see the Christmas lights at the Zoo. They will remember the feeling of Christmas.

You do Christmas, or Hanukkah or Kwanza or whatever it is, your way. You celebrate the holiday the way that works best for your family. You create the memories for your family in a way that meets everyone’s unique needs, because what your kids will remember is how the memories made them feel. You don’t owe anyone an apology for the decisions you make for your family, after all you know them best. Those people are either in the village, willing to learn and understand and pitch in, or they just aren’t. And that’s OK too.

Christmas might look different, but it’s still the most beautiful time of the year.

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