Enjoy my May ’09 CAWLM column and take on special needs parenting entitled, ‘Defining Motherhood.’ You can check out my past columns here

Defining Motherhood
(Judy Winter / May 2009/ All Rights Reserved)

I love May—a terrific month filled with the sweet fragrance of freshly mowed grass, intoxicating lilacs, loud melodies of giddy songbirds, pretty Maypoles, warm days that shake off winter’s lingering chill, and this cougar’s fifty-something birthday.

May’s greatest claim to fame is Mother’s Day, a seasonal celebration that honors the valuable role women play in the lives of their children. We reward mom’s contributions with breakfast in bed, homemade cards, sweet-smelling flowers, dime-store jewels, and maybe a few hours off.

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines mothers as “a female parent,’ which vastly understates mom’s value. These remarkable women shape the youngest minds and our country’s future—no small feat.

Mom’s importance is especially evident in special needs families. While parenting a child can make any mom want to yank out the individual hairs on her head, raising children with special needs is much like running daily triathlons without prior training—and no potty breaks.

These moms boldly lace up ill-fitting parenting shoes to run the biggest race of their lives 24/7, often for life. It’s an exhausting, exhilarating role that I embraced for nearly thirteen years. At times, the demands seemed superhuman; but the rewards taught me volumes about the sacred responsibility entrusted to parents. Those rich lessons changed the direction of my life and rewrote my definition of motherhood.

Effective parenting isn’t for wimps, especially when disability’s involved. Had I blown off the demands of parenting both of my kids, we would have paid a huge price. My firstborn deserves big thanks for allowing me to practice mommyhood rituals on her. I had no idea Jenna was preparing me to better meet the uncertainty of her brother’s physical needs from cerebral palsy.

Like most moms of kiddos with extra challenges, I’ve experienced more than my share of tears, sleepless nights during unnerving hospital stays, and seemingly endless educational and medical encounters requiring pit-bull advocacy. I’m amazed my heart’s still beating after the devastating loss of my much-loved son.

One thing’s clear. Whether it’s autism, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, Down syndrome, ADHD, or a host of other developmental, behavioral or medical challenges, special needs requires that extra parenting push, often delivered by a remarkable ‘female parent.’ These moms rarely receive kudos, but they deserve all that they get and more.

To all those hardworking mamas who love kids unconditionally, my thanks. Your passionate, unselfishness commitment to your sons and daughters, even while facing the toughest parenting situations imaginable, is inspiring.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms who fix icky boo boos, bravely face up chuck, make gooey mac & cheese and killer PB & J sandwiches, (and make the crust disappear), read one more bedtime story, initiate all those tough but necessary parent-child talks, and foster healthy independence in their kids (a.k.a. letting go)—while still managing to grab a shower.

But extra props to moms who boldly stare down disability each day. Because special needs parenting requires special moms— their bold parenting decisions create brighter futures for all kids.