The Lonely Side of Special Needs Parents

I’ve been going to my local MOPS group for a couple years now, and though it has been a Godsend (literally), sometimes it can be too much for me. I recently had one of those days. I was already having a bad anxious morning, but then the meeting started and something in me snapped. One of the girls came in, and it was obvious that she had just been crying. As soon as she realized we noticed, it burst out again and everyone jumped to comfort her. This is what this group is about. Supporting each other through the struggles of being moms. It was great how quickly the ladies in my group stepped up to talk her through it and make her feel better.

I had a hard time doing that. The incident she was upset about honestly did not feel like a big deal to me. It was the kind of thing that happens in my house constantly.

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Insert guilt here…

Now, I’m in no way trying to undermine her or pretend her feelings are not valid. How she was feeling at that time was 100% okay and totally normal. And if that incident was out of the ordinary enough for her to be upset about it, then I am happy for her. Truly. Demeaning that would be akin to demeaning someones headache because I’ve previously suffered a migraine. I’m not that ignorant.

But I’ve got to admit that it bothered me. Not that she was upset, but that I couldn’t bring myself to feel bad for her. All I could think of was how easy she must have it for losing it over something that to me was trivial. I started feeling bitter, not towards her or anyone else in the room, but towards the cards that dealt me the hand that I hold.

The meeting went on, and there was someone from the church school teaching about positive parenting. Already engrossed in my bad attitude and starting to hate myself for it, I began mentally shooting down everything she was saying. Any advice that I wasn’t already doing seemed so silly to try with an autistic little boy, and I couldn’t bring myself to listen clearly. I didn’t even think to listen for the benefit of my neurotypical daughter, because she copies so much behavior from her brother. And parenting them completely differently is useless at this age. She can’t understand why I treat her differently than him, so rather than conform, she will rebel further. I felt stuck.

By the end of the meeting, I was feeling resentful towards the women in my group, the speaker, everyone in the room. How dare they all talk about their own parenting struggles when mine feel so much harder. The more I heard from others, the more I felt like I couldn’t share. In the past, when I’ve shared about my own kids, I got pitied looks, empty condolences or advice that is useless to a special needs child. It all comes from a place of love and caring, but I can’t seem to appreciate it when it does nothing to help me. I don’t feel better, I feel estranged.

I feel like a bad mom drowning in a sea of great moms, and I’m looking for a lifesaver that is in a different body of water.


As we were leaving, it hit me how irrational and angry I was and it took every ounce of strength I had to hold it together long enough to get the kids in the car. As soon as they were buckled in, I lost it. A full panic attack ensued and my mind was at war with itself, half praying that no one noticed me sobbing in my van; the other half hoping someone would see me and care enough to comfort me. I still don’t know which scenario I’d prefer.

I dragged through the rest of the day like a zombie, beyond exhausted from my panic attack and unable to perk myself up.

I wish I could come back to this and say things are better. But they aren’t. The fact is, when a special needs parent is surrounded by parents of neurotypical kids, it is hard. It is hard to connect, hard to fit in. Sometimes I can’t join a conversation because the topic being discussed would only make everyone pity me. I refrain from attempting play dates because I can never find someone who’s kid will actually play with my son. Or because the mom has her kids in school, and I don’t, so a “play date” would pretty much be me chasing my kids while the other mom wonders why she tagged along. It’s hard because if I vent about my sons meltdown one more time and have someone agree that tantrums are hard, I just might scream.

Truthfully, there is nothing wrong with these women. They’ve done nothing wrong. The problem is with me. I can’t relate to them, so I stay quiet, I fall behind and I refrain from forming real relationships. But I know now that I need something different. I need a mom who can smile at my son having a meltdown and tell me they get it. I need a mom who won’t judge me because he’s not potty trained yet. Someone who can say, I just went through this with mine, I get it. Someone who will sit back and have a glass of wine with me while we try to convince each other we are not bad moms. And maybe even someone who has a kid that will play with mine. I need more than empathy, I need understanding. And that is what causes it. The utter loneliness that exists even when surrounded by these wonderful ladies. I just can’t seem to get past it.


Here’s to praying for finding mommy friends in a new school. Kindergarten, I welcome you with open arms.  And if you are a fellow special needs parent, here’s one for you.

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