“…I don’t want to be THAT mother:” Addressing a Common Fear for Parents

It’s the fear that lurks in the minds and hearts of almost every parent of a child with special needs…

“I want my child to get the right support, but I don’t think the school /church/doctor understands what to do. I’ve tried to communicate about it, but I’m not having much success. I disagree with how things are going, and I know I need to say something, but…I don’t want to be THAT mother.”

I hear this phrase uttered on an almost-weekly basis. Parents of children with special needs harbor so many layers of anxiety…worries about finding and securing the right treatments, helping the child make progress, hoping the student will make a friend, praying for inclusion and acceptance. In the process of dealing with all of these worries, and trying to find solutions, parents also fear being labeled as the “THAT” parent…

…the one who is never happy.
                The one that teachers talk about in the staff lounge.
                            The one who is paid lip service…
                                       {and avoided at all costs.}

No one wants to be THAT mother, of course. Instead, parents tell me, they want to be positive, capable, and helpful…but they don’t want to be “pushovers” either. I choose to call this style the Collaborative Mother. (We’re using “mother” for simplicity’s sake, but please don’t feel excluded, dads…this is for you, too!)

So, how do we avoid becoming THAT Mother? We can start by examining our style of communication, and defining what we don’t want to do, and what we hope to accomplish. To do this, let’s compare THAT Mother to the Collaborative Mother:

THAT Mother thinks she always knows better than the school/church; The Collaborative Mother tells the school/church what works at home with her child and considers the input of others.

THAT Mother requires that the school/church change the entire program structure to fit her child’s unique needs (and expresses frustration at any resistance); the Collaborative Mother discusses ways that her child’s needs can be met in the least restrictive environment.

THAT Mother makes demands; the Collaborative Mother makes requests positively and assertively.

THAT Mother has an attitude of entitlement; the Collaborative Mother has an attitude of humility and gratitude.

THAT Mother explodes when mistakes are made; the Collaborative Mother extends grace, and offers to be part of fixing the problem.

THAT Mother assumes that the school/church knows nothing, and is condescending; the Collaborative Mother says, “You may already know this…” or “How can I help you to understand my child better?”

THAT Mother gossips about teachers and volunteers; The Collaborative Mother addresses concerns directly, honestly and kindly. She follows the “chain of command” when seeking to resolve disputes.

THAT Mother says, “You people are going to get this right.” The Collaborative Mother says, “I don’t want to be “THAT Mother.”

THAT Mother doesn’t think she’s “THAT Mother.” The Collaborative mother knows that once in a while, she will be THAT Mother,  because she’s human, and because she makes mistakes, and because her emotions sometimes run high when it comes to her child…

THAT Mother is “never wrong.” Ever. The Collaborative Mother is humble, and willing to say, “I’m sorry.”

THAT Mother loves her child, and she is hurting. The Collaborative Mother loves her child, and she is hurting…but she doesn’t want to hurt others in the process.

THAT Mother is a Child of God. THe Collaborative Mother is a Child of God…and she knows that the teachers and volunteers are, too.

Collaborating with you…

7 thoughts on ““…I don’t want to be THAT mother:” Addressing a Common Fear for Parents

  1. What a great post! yes, you are right. Instead I ask myself, “what can I do to help the people that work with my kids?” And “How can I help the school?” The best advocacy is done with gentleness, and a good measure of forgiveness and understanding because we cannot expect people to arrive at the place of understanding we are at after just a few conversations.
    Anyway, this is a great, thanks for sharing!

  2. Very nice article, Katie!

    From a physician’s perspective, THAT mother may come to the office looking for someone to validate their strongly-held opinion as to their child’s most appropriate diagnosis and dispense the precise treatment they have in mind. My job as a physician is to seek the truth as objectively as possible, complete a thorough and accurate formulation explaining why the child or teen is struggling and to make the best possible recommendations about treatment. I work incredibly hard to keep up with the latest in my field, but the time I spend is worth it when the kids I come in contact with are able to thrive. When THAT mother comes in and isn’t open to at least considering thoughtfully what I have to share, I’m disappointed because she’ll leave disappointed and her child probably won’t get help.

  3. these words are a balm to my heavy and tired heart in our current situation. thank you so much for the post and the encouragement it brings.

  4. Hi Katie,
    I recently found your blog and I’m so thankful I did. I’m a mom of 3 small children, and our oldest son, Jude, is 5 and has sensory integration disorder. Boy has it been a heart wrenching and alienating road (I’ve always been so social, and now find myself avoiding certain social situations just because it’s easier than dealing with feeling judged by those who don’t understand my sweet boy). We attempted preschool twice, then home school, and now we’re wondering if we should attempt kindergarten this fall… the anxiety that comes with the thought of that can be too overwhelming sometimes. Anyway, all this to just say thank you. 🙂 It’s so refreshing to find someone who gets it and is so encouraging! Thank you!

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