Beyond the usual blessings of family, friends, home, pets, job, and the thousand and one reasons we find to give thanks, I realize that this year I am especially grateful to my son with special needs. He has had the ability to nurture and grow me as his parent for the last 38 years. I wasn’t always this grateful for the learning experiences that came my way.

I didn’t want to hear that I was a good parent and could be an effective advocate. I just wanted someone else to take care of everything for me. Life was just too hard to have to deal with everything beyond the diagnosis. I didn’t want to deal with all the therapies, as well as, the medical, educational, religious and behavioral concerns. With sibling issues, expectations from family and close relatives, plus juggling work stirred in, really, it was often just too much.

Now that I’m on the other side of sixty, I have learned to appreciate the lessons learned over the years, and reflect on the fact that my son has been my greatest teacher.

I learned that people and relationships are more important than possessions and wealth.
I learned that caring about others matter more than things.
I learned to appreciate small accomplishments that my son gained rather than what he couldn’t do.
I have learned in valuing his successes, I can be more accepting of myself, and others.
I’ve learned that in acceptance there is freedom.
I see my son as perfect now, not broken and needing to be fixed. He is who he was meant to be. I value who he is, and am so glad that he is in my life. He is not a burden; he is a blessing.

Life is too short and unpredictable—don’t wait until you’re on the other side of sixty to enjoy the mystery of who your children are. Celebrate their existence. Let them know that you appreciate them for who they are, and enjoy each day as it comes. That doesn’t mean that you stop being an effective advocate and support person for them. No, you continue to do that too, but in the midst of everyday life, don’t forget to let your children know how much you care for them. Always check in and see if they feel valued, loved, and respected for who they are. Try focusing on the strengths and building on those. So in the New Year, enjoy your family and celebrate everything you appreciate and can do with each member of your family.

Mary Ellen Peterson

Mary Ellen Peterson
Mary Ellen Peterson is CEO of Parents Helping Parents in San Jose, California. PHP increases the quality of life for our most vulnerable by providing services, resources and support for children with special needs, their families, and caregivers.
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