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What I Wish I Had Known

I've been married for 37 years,a mom for 31 years and a special-needs mom to kids with invisible disabilities for 22 years. When I look back at the beginning of all these journeys, there were so many things I did not know. That is fine - I think we have this expectation that we need to know a lot of things when we are beginners.

Recently, I went back to  grad school. I spent so much time being frustrated by what I didn't know, specifically in technology. I would lament to my oldest daughter, Anna, who is a college professor herself, "Why don’t I know this?" She would very gently say, "Mom, you're not expected to know it. You're a beginner." It's hard to embrace being a beginner, but that's what we need to do.

After all my years of experience as a parent, when I look back at what young Amy didn't know, I want to look at her with grace and compassion (not my usual stance). If I'm being completely honest, I kind of nitpick her and say, "Why didn't she know that? Why didn't she try this? Why didn't she do this?" That's not a place of grace compassion and acceptance.

Today, I want to talk about what I wish I had known. I wish I could sit with you over a cup of coffee and share these lessons with you. I know how much pressure you put on yourself to get it all right. I wish I could look you in the eye and say you are a great mom, you are doing good work, you were loving well, and you are enough. Let me say that one more time: you are a great mom, you are doing good work, you are  loving well, and you are enough. Since we cant have coffee - this post will have to do. So, let's begin.

Number one: Not everything is an emergency 

Now, before I go any further, let me just say that I realize that there are some emergencies like hospitalizations and dangerous behavior. But most of life is not an emergency, even though in our brains, we think they are. This is our scarcity mindset taking over.

When I first got the diagnosis that our daughter had fetal alcohol syndrome, we had a neuro-psych evalulation. The report included 10 pages of things to do. I went home and plotted it out. I was going to do every single thing. I was going to throw everything I had at every single action point. First of all, that's not realistic. Second of all, that wasn't an emergency.

So much of what happens with kids with behavioral problems is a long, slow walk in the same direction, with one step forward and three steps back. Now I know that can be incredibly  frustrating when you're trying to make something better, but we have time. We need to lower expectations, slow our roll, and ask ourselves, "What is the most important thing that I can do today?"

Here's a little practice that I like to do:

  1. Name the thing that you think is emergent. For example, your child is raging every day after school and you think you need to fix it right now.

  2. What is one step I can do today to move me towards making things better? You can’t stop the raging, but you might be able to keep your other children protected or hire a caretaker for certain days.

  3. Speak the truth over it. This is not an emergency. I need to trust God. It is exhausting and disheartening, but it is not an emergency.

Friends, we have time to do the next right thing. We have time to slow down and take it one step at a time. We need to do our best to eliminate our hurry mindset.

2. Everything is not my responsibility

Now this is hard. As mothers, we feel like we have to  give 100,000,000% to everything. Dads may feel this too, so I do not mean to leave dads out, but in our home I am the olympic champion of taking it all on my shoulders. My husband is very loving and a great dad but has this amazing ability not to overthinik and overworry about things.

 I recently had a conversation with another mother of kids with reactive attachment disorder, and she said to me, "All this work and time and effort, and this is the only result I get?". I understand that feeling so deeply. As a new mom to kids with behavioral issues, threw the book at it. I didn't let any stone go unturned. I worked so hard and put so much responsibility on myself to heal trauma in a brain that I could not heal. I can't change the effects of alcohol on my daughter’s brain. I can't change the trauma my other kids went through.

What if I start with being present first, looking at the situation, taking responsibility off myself, and find the next thing I can do to be present?  A friend of mine from grad school said recently, "I'm learning that being present does not mean I have to be responsible."

3. love is not enough to heal generational trauma. 

Lots of adoptive moms come to me with the assumption that if they just love their kids, they are  gonna be okay. Now, I’m not dismissing the power of love. We know the transformative  power of  God’s love. We know that our love for others is always the right choice, but to think that the amount of time that I’m putting into my child can change generational trauma is an unrealistic.

I had to acceopt that loving my child with attachment issues looked different.  I wish I would have learned this early on and loved my child in the way she could accept it.

Loving your children can look like things that don’t seem very loving. It can look like:

  • Driving her to school

  • Eating pizza hut 

  • Making her soup 

It is not what love looks like with my kids with healthy attachment, but this is what she can accept right now. I wish I would have realized this long ago; it may have saved me from a lot of hard feelings. 

4. Your well being  matters.

This is the most important truth. I wish I could go back to young Amy and say, "Slow down, sister, take the time to take care of yourself." When I work with my mentor clients, we start really small with this idea that we have to be well resourced  and nourished. 

It’s easy to think that we don’t have time to care for ourselves as caretakers. I promise you, you don’t have time to NOT care for yourself.

I know several women around my age who just barreled through like myself and didn’t remember to take care of themselves. And now we’re paying the price. We’re all dealing with issues with our bodies that resulted from not taking care of them. These issues include auto-immune diseases, migraines, weight problems, and poor joint flexibility. 

So if I could go back and tell myself anything, I would say, "Slow your roll, do what makes you feel resourced, find the things that make you happy, and do them every day - even little things." They don’t have to be extravagant, like a beach vacation, which would make me happy. Of course, it would make everybody happy. But as parents of kids with disabilities, we can’t do that. So how about we start small? 

Ask yourself: How can I resource myself in a really challenging season?


These are just four lessons that I learned. Everything is not an emergency. Everything is not my responsibility. Love is not always enough. My well being  matters. There are so many more I could say to you, but those are the ones I'll start with.

 Let me say this one more time: you are a great mom, you are doing good work, you are loving well, and you are enough.

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