When I was in the seventh grade I babysat a young girl, Allie, who was born with special needs. Allie is confined to a wheelchair and needs 24-hour care. I can remember carrying her around the living room and dancing with her for what seemed like hours. My heart filled with love being in her presence and from making her laugh. I oftentimes reflect on the days spent at her home, nestled under the beautiful picturesque Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado. Allie’s mom had stopped working full-time to tend to her oldest child, and found comfort in knitting and making beautiful hand-made baskets. Fortunately, my mom ran into Allie’s mom not too long ago, and I was so glad to hear that the entire family is doing well.
Being a parent to a special needs child is different than being one to a child who doesn’t have special needs. Dr. Tamara Knapp-Grosz, founder of Mama Time has a child who has special needs. “It can be difficult to be hopeful and to see your child’s capacity for growth when the gap between your child and those “typical children” seems to widen every day," she stated. I recently interviewed Dr. Tamara on her own experiences raising her children.
(Q): Can you talk in more detail about how you felt initially being around “typical families?”
When you have a child with special needs it can be sometimes difficult being around “typical” families. The contrast between what friend’s children are doing and what your own child is not doing can be immense. Friends unintentionally brag about this soccer game and that ballet recital usually without a sense that you are struggling with your same age child’s ability to say “Mama” for the first time. Initially, you grieve and inside you may struggle with the seemingly random unfairness of it all. Some of us get angry and withdraw from those “typical” families. Others may be lost in blaming themselves or others for their child’s disability.
(Q): How did you cope with particular “milestones” in your child’s life?
If you are lucky, somewhere along the way, you realize that what those “typical” children are doing doesn’t really matter. It is not a comparison. You look long and hard at that beautiful child in your arms and you decide to embrace the small miracles. You begin to celebrate a connection when there was none before. You rejoice in eye contact. You revel at being able to sleep through the night -even if it took until age 4 to get there! You stop worrying about standardized “milestones” and instead create your own! Instead of looking for what is not happening-you begin to notice all that is!
(Q) Can you share with me more about daily "small miracles"?
Focusing daily on the small miracles can create a positive dynamic between you and your child which encourages more growth. The stress diminishes and is replaced by a sense of peace and inner joy which I have found has generalized to other aspects of my life. I savor the simple moments we have together as mother and child. We laugh and we sing. We watch the sunsets. We take time to make a simple meal together, laughing while we prepare it slowly together. My son has become my "Sous Chef", and over time, an amazing little chef in his own right!
I think in many ways I lead a more joyful life now than many of my more “typical” friends. I see many of them losing perspective about what matters. I see some of their relationships with their children suffering with the external demands that their busy lives place on them-rushing from one activity to another. Do I still grieve at times? Yes of course. Do I still worry about the future? Yes of course but focusing on the small miracles grounds me.
(Q) What quotes come to mind that you like to live by?
Self-help author Melody Beattie says "Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity… It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow."
Dr. Tamara encourages mothers to take some quiet time and reflect on their own experiences with raising a special needs child. She recommends that parents should journal, “Every day take some time to jot down the small miracles of that day. Get a small journal and start this week. Reflect, on these small steps, not just at thanksgiving time but every day-you and your child are creating miracles together-celebrate them! After a period of time has passed, you will re-read those journals and suddenly you will be aware that those simple miracles have suddenly turned into HUGE miracles! Over time, We have gone from a world of silence to actual conversations! Huge Miracles!"
Dr. Tamara Knapp-Grosz received her Masters in Psychology from Long Island University and her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a specialization in Marriage and Family Counseling from Seton Hall University. She has undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Nursing and completed her doctoral internship in Clinical Psychology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She has over thirty years of health care experience and spent much of her early career designing and implementing state of the art inpatient and outpatient psychiatric programs around the United States. Dr. Tamara is a Licensed Psychologist and Nationally Board Certified Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist. She is also a Board Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist. Some of her clinical interests include: Anxiety Disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorders, learning disabilities, and techniques for maximizing overall potential. Active in numerous professional organizations, Dr. Tamara is a Past President of the Georgia College Counseling Association and has presented well over 1,000 workshops throughout the country for professionals and members of the general population. Her past faculty appointments include teaching in the graduate counseling programs at the Georgia School of Professional Psychology and Argosy University. She presently is a member of the Behavioral Health Advisory Board for the Professional Counseling Program at South University. Currently, Dr. Tamara is Director of Counseling and Disability Services at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Dr. Tamara is married to Dr. Michael Grosz and is the mother of two children, Geoffrey and Leilani (ages 3 and 10). In her free time she loves to travel, cook and enjoy family time! Her most current passion is providing workshops for mothers and expectant mothers with Mama Time (www.mamatime.net). You can contact Dr. Tamara by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sojourner Marable Grimmett is an Atlanta-based author who is recognized for writing about the joys and challenges of being a “stay-at-work” mom and connects with moms, both new and experienced, who have the responsibility of raising a family and maintaining a full-time job. Visit her blog sojournermarablegrimmett.blogspot.com follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook. Also join her new campaign to support establishing lactation rooms in public places.