It’s been a few years since I waved to my kids after they boarded a school bus for the first day of school. But each fall, my heart is with all parents, especially parents of kids with special needs, as they nervously watch their babies get on buses, big or small, with or without assistance. Back-to-school is a rite of passage that hints at the promise of childhood normalcy and independence, as challenged as that can be for all those involved. So many outcomes are yet to be written.

I have never forgotten what an emotional day this is, especially for those families sending their sons and daughters off to kindergarten or a new school for the first time. Letting go of our kids begins when they are born, an important and healthy realization for all families. But it’s an especially complex one for parents whose lives have revolved around protecting and nurturing children with extra challenges. Can you spell intensity? So much of your heart, soul and energy goes into protecting them from the day of their birth or unexpected diagnosis. How can you possibly trust someone else to keep them safe and help them grow?

No one can totally prepare you for such big moments on this challenging parenting journey, but I hope it helps to know that, as someone who has walked many miles in similar shoes, I’m cheering you on. I believe you can do what is best for your child, and I know you can survive its unrelenting demands. Letting go is one of the most difficult challenges you will face on this special needs journey, and it is also one of the most critical. Think of it as an investment in your child’s future independence, and your own. That honest and motivating reflection changes everything.

As you take on the adventures of a new school year, I travel with you, wishing you the best year ever, knowing both how hard and how rewarding it can be. Remember to focus on what’s possible for your child, reflect on how far you have both traveled, always look beyond the obvious, and be clear about your parenting goals.

Try to get in a few good daytime naps in along the way, too.

If you haven’t already read my post Letter to Eric, about my son’s first day of school, this might be a good time to do just that. You can find it here.

Photo of Eric Winter during his final year of school by Judy Winter.