Seeing Each Other Through a Mother’s Eyes

This post was developed in collaboration with P&G as part of their Love Over Bias campaign.

Unexpected. Overwhelming. Distressing.

It felt like everything changed when the words of our daughter’s severe diagnosis were uttered.

As my husband Evan and I began to learn about all of the facets of her rare and life-threatening skin disorder, the whisperings of certain phrases seemed to accompany each sentence of her prognosis: Can’t. Might Not. Won’t Be Able To. Will Never.

Instead of imagining a world of possibilities like you tend to do when your child is born, it felt like a list of limitations began to grow.

But in the early months of Brenna’s life, as we adjusted to our newfound sense of normalcy in caring for her skin and health, we realized we had a choice: we could allow the perceived can’ts to hold us back…or we could push the limits.

When I was younger, I had the privilege of meeting a man named Roger Crawford. Roger was born with only two fingers on one hand and a thumb on the other hand.  One of his feet has three toes, and the other leg was so underdeveloped, it was amputated below his knee.

From the beginning of his life, Roger’s parents pushed him toward excellence. Instead of growing up accepting that his future would likely not include sports because of his limb abnormalities, he trained and challenged himself to pursue his dreams of playing tennis.

Roger ended up becoming the first person with a physical challenge affecting two or more limbs to play NCAA Division 1 athletics. Eventually, he was inducted into the Division 1 Hall of Fame and Sports Illustrated recognized him as “one of the most accomplished physically challenged athletes in the world.”

At a young age, Roger learned that although he probably wasn’t going to be the fastest or the most powerful, he would win the point if he could hit the ball over the net just one more time than his opponent.

When Brenna was a couple years old, I asked Roger – who is now an internationally known speaker and author – about growing up with these kinds of obvious limitations. And he said the greatest gift he received was from his parents, who gave him the opportunity to try, regardless if he failed or succeeded.

“It’s so important,” he told me, “to allow our children to fulfill their potential, to allow them to amaze us with their abilities. We really don’t know what they can accomplish until we give them those opportunities to excel.”

Roger helped me to recognize the redefined beauty found in doing things beyond what is comfortable and refusing to conform to society’s standards of what is expected.

Today, Evan and I strive to push back against our tendency to allow our fears or concerns to hold our daughter back. While it can be difficult and often uncomfortable, we have noticed that it has become easier every day to ask of ourselves instead “How might Brenna be able to accomplish that? What can she learn by trying?”

Giving our daughter the opportunity to try has shown us that limitations are often more perception than reality.

Despite our worry of skin infection, Brenna has been swimming and boating, has gone to countless museums and libraries. Despite fear of overheating due to inability to sweat, she has sat under the hot sun at Major League baseball games with all kinds of cooling products. She loves gymnastics and playing at the park. She has traveled to 13 different states – adding three more this summer! -and Washington DC.

She has grown into a joyous 6-year-old who jumps at the chance to try new things.

Incredible things begin to happen when we encourage our kids to live in love and joy and potential, not fear. To try new things. When we allow our kids to amaze us.

Perhaps recognizing the immense potential all around us comes not from what we’re looking at, but rather, what we choose to see.

Just imagine what the world could be if we all saw each other through a mom’s eyes.

Imagine a world where we could see the potential in everyone – beyond the labels, the biases, the unknown, the preconceptions and misconceptions. If we gave others the chance to amaze us with the open heart of a mother.

During this year’s winter Olympics, P&G is celebrating a mom’s role in giving her child the support and tools to overcome challenges and achieve greatness. They released this amazing video that I’m honored to share because it’s filled with so much love and inspiration.

A mom is an advocate, a protector, a champion of her child. Let us celebrate each other with the love of a mother, to cheer each other on as we see beyond our differences and support our commonality, to push toward the highest potential over any perceived limitations.

{Celebrating Beautiful} Navigating The Lonely Days Of Special Needs Parenting, by Mike Berry

In blogging for the last 6 years, I’ve written about many different topics, but one theme that has remained constant has been my focus of sharing about how our family is discovering the beauty in difference and choosing to celebrate the incredible beauty all around us, and how we want to encourage others to do the same. After connecting with so many others with truly amazing stories, I started a guest blog series called Celebrating Beautiful, as it relates to beauty however it can be interpreted: parenthood, faith, your kids, an experience, home, and so much more.
I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Mike Berry through an author program we both did in 2016. As Mike and his wife Kristin write about fostering and adopting, we have found so much in common, particularly through the struggles and triumphs of our children with special needs. I was excited to get to write an endorsement of Mike’s new book, Confessions of an Adoptive Parent, and I can’t wait to press a copy into the hands of several of my friends who have adopted! Confessions Of An Adoptive Parent is now available for pre-order…you can grab your copy here (and get some awesome free bonus content when you pre-order before Feb. 6!)
Here is Mike Berry on Celebrating Beautiful…

Defeated. Frustrated. Lonely. Tired. Done.

Like a spin-cycle set on the top speed, those words flashed through my mind all at once. The other kids on the team had accepted the position the coach assigned to them. Joey grinned as he trotted to first base. It wasn’t his ideal position, and certainly not his favorite, but he accepted it because that’s what normal kids do. Same with Trent. He was small for his age and catcher really wasn’t the best position, especially since he couldn’t throw the ball past the pitchers mound, but he complied all the same.

Then there was my son, who stood in center field, stomping his feet, throwing his glove and refusing to play, in his words, ‘that stupid position.’ He wanted to play shortstop. He thought he deserved to be at shortstop. The game nearly had to be delayed while I coaxed him until he trudged to center field.

The assistant coach stared at me with a haughty, judgmental look. I could hear his thoughts echo in my mind. “What’s wrong with your kid? Why can’t you get control of him?” Or worse, “He’s just a kid. Why are you so harsh?”

I fought the urge to say something, explain his behavior, or make excuses. Really though, what was I going to say? “You see he was adopted through foster care and………..” no that wouldn’t work. “He experienced trauma before and after he was born and…….” no, not that one either. “You see, it’s tough to raise a child with a disorder like this because……” nope, just more judgement if I said that!

It was a day I’ll never forget because, although there were a hundred or so parents and siblings gathered for the game, I had never felt more alone.

Been There, Done That.

If you’re raising a child with special needs you probably identify with that scenario. If your child suffers from a disorder like FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), or Reactive Attachment Disorder, you especially identify. You might even say, “Yep..been there, done that!” You understand the defeat of trying to get your child to cooperate in the middle of a tantrum. You’ve experienced the struggle of being in a public place while your child acts out, throws a tantrum, screams obscenities, or destroys personal property.

Perhaps you’re fostering a child who has gone through significant trauma and it’s caused them to struggle with healthy attachment. You may even find it difficult to face another day because your strength is sucked dry and you’re ready to quit!

We’re right there with you. We understand completely and we want you to know something….you’re not alone!

Not Alone, No Matter What!

Let me say that again: You are not alone. Regardless of your child’s story, the embarrassment you’ve walked through in your neighborhood, the painful moments of trying to explain your child’s behavior, or the awful parent you think you are for wanting to quit, you are not alone. No matter what, we are standing by you because we’ve been there too.

We’ve had teachers tell us that we “just need to parent with more structure,” or “use a behavior chart like she does at school.” (Can we just agree that we’d all like to set fire to the behavior charts?) We’ve stood helplessly on the side of the road while a police officer asks in a demeaning tone, “Well can’t you control your son? I have 3 sons and my wife has no problem controlling them!” We’ve had case managers make judgement calls on our family because they failed to understand the severity of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, attachment issues, extreme trauma, and the reality of this journey.

We understand every tear that drips from your eyes. We know what it’s like to feel done, be at the end of your rope, or think thoughts you never thought you would think when you became a parent. Raising children with autism, brain damage, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, down syndrome, reactive attachment disorder and many others, is an unending battle at times. It’s a battle with your child, for your child, with your school, with professionals, with neighbors, and sometimes even with close friends and family.

There’s a way to find strength, even when you feel too weak to go on!

The Strength You Need.

Sometimes all the strength you need to face another day, is in finding out you’re not alone. There’s incredible healing power in discovering this truth. In fact, it can be more powerful than any seminar, book, or podcast could provide. We’ve found this strength. It’s precisely why we believe so heavily in support communities and leaning on others who are going through the same struggles in raising children with special needs.

It’s why I created my blog, Confessions Of An Adoptive Parent. It’s why I took the title of that blog and turned it into a brand new book. We’re here to listen and help because we know how defeating it can be. But we also know the hope you have. We know how much you love those kiddos of yours. We know how much your heart beats for them. We’re here to encourage you when it gets tough. You are not alone!

Mike Berry is an author, blogger, speaker, adoptive father, and former foster parent. He is the co-creator, along with his wife Kristin, of the award-winning blog which has a global audience of more than 100,000 followers monthly. Mike travels extensively throughout the U.S. every year, with a passion to reach hurting and overwhelmed foster and adoptive parents with a message of hope. He is the author of several books including, The Adoptive Parent Toolbox, The Weary Parent’s Guide to Escaping Exhaustion and the soon-to-be released Confessions of An Adoptive Parent: Hope and Help from the Trenches of Foster Care and Adoption. Along with blogging and books, he is also a featured writer on Disney’s Mike and Kristin have been married for 18 years and have 8 children, all of whom are adopted. They reside in the suburbs of Indianapolis, Indiana.