Becoming a parent is a life-changing experience. Suddenly, someone else’s needs always come first. Your thoughts, words and actions have a direct impact on another person. Nurturing, guiding and encouraging are part of your every day. It is an incredibly exciting and challenging role.
In celebration of Mother’s Day, we spoke to three mothers who are raising children who might not fit into the mould of ‘normal’.
They discuss what diversity and inclusion means to them, and how they are fostering this in their lives at home, and in the community.
Raising a child with additional needs certainly does have its challenges. Some are easy to overcome, like changing your schedule to fit in appointments and therapies. Some are harder to manage, like all the additional paperwork and applications and honest questions from curious kids.
My daughter is very happy and brings so much joy to our lives. She lives in the moment and genuinely enjoys life like no one is watching! I’m not sure if she’s entirely aware that she is different, so advocating for her is about gently educating the people we meet about how to be ‘cool’ around people with disability. Sometimes it’s about just getting on with what you’re doing and not letting onlookers bother you. Other times it’s purposefully not apologising for behaviour that may seem louder or more boisterous than normal, and it’s always about answering questions honestly and openly. If people (adults or children) are met with rudeness when they do ask a question, they’ll probably just avoid people who are ‘different’ next time, and we don’t want that at all!
Promoting diversity and inclusion in our lives is about getting out and living life. We try our best to live a normal family life, even with additional challenges. Sometimes things work. Sometimes they don’t (like our first attempt at camping last year!) But the more the public sees people with disability, the better.
People often comment how wonderful or strong special needs parents are, but the truth is, we’re just like any other parent, doing what we can to give our child the best life we can. You never know when you’ll be faced with a completely unexpected life challenge, so if you see someone with additional needs out and about, smile, and be kind. That’s really all there is to it!
Reflecting back on my child’s younger years, it is clear that they carried a heavy burden on their young shoulders. At the time, there was no obvious reason for the sadness and discomfort that they experienced. As they grew older, my child came to me to discuss their sexuality, sharing quite early on (approx. 10-11 years old) that they felt they were attracted to the same sex. A few years later they spoke to me about being attracted to both sexes (according to binary terms), which later evolved to them identifying as pansexual. At around the age of 14, my child revealed that they were transgender, experiencing significant and profound gender dysphoria.
In those early days, I worried about many things – wondering, “How could we tell if this was the accurate path for my child?”, “How should I best support my child?”, “How do we access the right supports and services?”, to finally, “How do I protect them from the world?”
Despite these internal fears, my primary focus was on ensuring that my child felt loved and supported. I decided quite quickly that how I should best support my child was simply to be there for them and be responsive to their needs. I conveyed openness and honesty in my communications with my child, and the message that I reiterated to them was that they could come to me about anything and everything—we would tackle challenges together.
I reinforced that there was no expectation on them to fit in with society’s expectations of what is ‘normal’. It was important for them to know that they were not alone on this journey. I became protective of my child, fiercely advocating for them where needed. However, I soon learned that it is my job to equip them for the world – not protect them from it.
In saying that, my role as the parent of a transgender child includes advocating for diversity and inclusion. I dispel myths and share information willingly with trusted friends and colleagues, and anonymously (to protect my child’s privacy and confidentiality) amidst wider audiences. I have worked with several individuals who have been going through similar experiences and feel privileged to be able to draw on the knowledge and skills developed from life experience to provide them with assistance and support.
As a mother of children with disabilities, the future is looking bright. People are becoming more accepting of various abilities across the board.
Although there is room for improvement with inclusiveness, I’m hopeful with so many advocates around the world highlighting how special each person is, and how inclusiveness brings such diversity to your home, work, social life and more.
I am currently going through a change of paediatrician for one of my children, which has seen a whole new team greet us with enthusiasm. I haven’t felt judged for my child being ‘over excited’ all the time, or for the million questions he asks. This has made the transition very comforting and not so confrontational for him to adjust. People like this need to be highlighted and applauded for their ability to see past people’s differences (at the end of the day, we all have quirks) and provide a safe and inclusive environment.
Moving into employment – if workplaces had understandings of how various abilities can improve culture and performance, the world would be a brighter place.
A question that I have been asked many times is “Don’t you wish he would just behave?” and I always respond with “He is behaving; however, his behaviour is different to others. I wouldn’t change it, because that would change who he is.”
Being only 5 years old, the best example he provides to people is ‘the lightning in my brain sometimes doesn’t go to where it needs to go and that’s ok’. I told him this because he would tell me that his brain makes him do naughty things and he doesn’t want to. He’s not naughty, his brain just operates differently.
My ultimate goal as a mother is to have him walk proudly wherever he pleases without being looked down on or judged for being different. I’ll always be his biggest supporter and advocate.