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What I Know About Motherhood Now That I Have a Child with Special Needs

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Before I was a mom, I ran through life without really living it. And then my daughters came along and taught me one of life's greatest lessons: how to slow down. I am twelve years into motherhood now, and these are the other universal mom lessons I have learned along the way.

Your face tells a story, so show your children the happy ending.
When my oldest daughter, Olivia, was a newborn, she came home from the hospital weighing only four pounds. She was so fragile -- and I was so afraid. I hung a Post-it note above her changing table, just to remind myself to keep smiling and not to look too serious. When my second daughter, Zoe, was in her toddler years, she was often critically ill. With each hospital stay came frequent blood tests, and to comfort and calm Zoe's fears, I would smile and press my cheek against hers and softly sing her favorite lullaby, while her tears wet my face. It was only after we were back home that I would stand sobbing in my own shower, as my tears mixed with the hot rushing water.

Let your child be a child.
Children fall and get hurt, especially when they are playing hard. I have learned that sometimes rolling off the bed as a result of a tickle fight is the kind of good fun that all kids need. I have learned that I can ignore the overtired sunburn flush of a happy-faced girl, smiling because she got the "please, five more minutes" in the pool that she so desperately wanted. I have learned never to interrupt pretend play, especially when your children are past the age of 10, and you don't know how many of these magic moments you have left.

Your child has only one mother, but will have a lifetime of friends, teachers, doctors and therapists.
When Zoe was 3, I was worried she would never walk, speak or learn what she needed to know. I sought opinions from every professional we saw. Now, she is almost 11, and I see my daughter for the whole child she is: her strengths, her spirit and her abilities.

Let your child inspire you.
With every challenge your child overcomes, there is inspiration. When my daughter Olivia was anticipating reading a speech at her school assembly, anxiety kept her awake her through the night and into the early morning. Yet when the moment came, she stood strong and spoke with confidence, acting as if she owned the room.

Zoe has to work extra hard on even the simplest tasks, like just standing up unassisted. She gives it everything she has, lasting only a few minutes before losing her balance. Zoe goes to school with an overflowing backpack of medicine, supplies, snacks and her iPad. She brings her walker on PE days, drives a power wheelchair around campus and is accompanied by a full-time aide -- yet she ends almost every day saying, "I love my life."

Be vulnerable.
I let myself feel hurt. I cry for the things my daughter will never do. I cry in my car and I cry to my husband when strangers hurt my feelings. I have learned that watching your child cry can break your heart, over and over again, but I will be a better mother for feeling this pain. Researcher Brené Brown calls vulnerability "our greatest measure of courage," explaining: "To be alive, to be human, is to be vulnerable."

Celebrate the everyday.
A chalkboard hangs near our kitchen, where we take turns coloring pictures, and we count down the days until the next family birthday or vacation. The art wall behind our kitchen table is where we display our family drawings, seasonal artwork, schoolwork and love notes. Our weekends feature family rituals like Sunday pizza night and Wii parties. My husband and I steal a little time on the patio at the end of our day, to spend a few moments alone in quiet catch-up conversation. The girls and I bake cutout cookies for no reason and small chocolate cakes for fun occasions. In the spring we spend hours making chalk drawings on the patio; we celebrate summer with ice cream cones and pool time after breakfast. We make every effort to celebrate the simple each day.

"Doing your best" is good enough.
Zoe begins most mornings feeling tired, and my perpetual mom mantra is to encourage her to keep moving -- to just "try" and "do her best."

These are lessons I try to internalize, too. Mothering never gets easier; it just changes all the time. I have learned that when Olivia sometimes cries to me, feeling sad about the extra attention her sister receives or whatever else I might have done to hurt her feelings, it is OK to admit that I am not perfect, and that I try my best -- and that holding her tight makes us both feel better.

And at bedtime when Zoe curls up against my chest, it's OK not to reach for a pillow to support her tired muscles. It's OK to just let her be -- because simply holding her in my arms is good enough.

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For more posts in our What I Know About Motherhood series, click through the slideshow below.

What We Know About Motherhood Now
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Read more by Suzanne Perryman at SpecialNeedsMom.com