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For Mothers of Neurodivergent Children, Community is Crucial

By Megan Champion.


When my twins were barely three, I took them (and my six week old) to the beach. Before we left the house that morning, I was rushing around with a baby on my hip, packing and getting breakfast ready. That day, I was serving the twins waffles with peanut butter. When the food was ready, they sat down and my son immediately began screaming.


“What’s wrong?” I asked, alarmed. “What’s the problem?” He couldn’t answer, but his screaming went from sad to angry in a second. Before long, he was in full-scale meltdown mode, thrashing his little body all around and trying to throw his food.


For some context, I spent my whole life working with kids: first as a babysitter, then a daycare worker, preschool intern, and finally, as an elementary school teacher for 15 years. I knew kids – or so I thought. But the day my child screamed for two hours over the way the peanut butter was spread on that waffle, I realized how little I actually knew.


During this massive meltdown, I tried everything to get him to calm down. I knew he was hungry and a bite of food would work its magic just as spinach did for Popeye – but he wouldn’t even taste it. I tried putting him in a quiet space to wait for him to calm on his own, but he refused to stay in the room and threw himself into the door. I tried wrapping him up in a tight hug, but he wriggled his way out with a force I didn’t know he had. I tried taking him outside on our back deck for some fresh air on that sunny morning, and in his devastation at being brought there, used every ounce of strength he had to flip over deck chairs and the table. He was barely three.


More than an hour into this mess (with a fussy baby, a worried daughter, and a crying mom), my elderly neighbor whom I barely knew stopped by to do a welfare check on my son to make sure I wasn’t hurting him. Devastated and mortified don’t even begin to explain it.


To this day (the twins are now nine), I don’t quite have the words to explain what it feels like to be stuck in motherhood. To know that my child needed something, but whatever it was, I didn’t have it. What a failure! Clearly, I didn’t know what I was doing. I felt like a terrible mother. Maybe I wasn’t even meant to be a mother!


Over the years, I’ve told the waffle story to many moms, both anecdotally in person and as the first episode of my podcast, On The Hard Days, for moms raising neurodivergent children.


I cannot believe how often the story has resonated with mothers – and to this day, it remains my most downloaded episode. And just in case you’re curious, my son screamed in the car for the first 45 minutes, and I cried the whole way to the beach. Once we got there, I handed off my daughter and my baby to friends, sat down with my son, and handed him the soggy, cold waffle, more “imperfect” than ever.


He wolfed it down, perked up immediately, and ran off to play.


As it turns out, there are many moms in a similar position as I have been. Raising a gifted, neurodivergent child is incredibly rewarding, but emotionally and physically exhausting as well. There’s no baby book out there for the child whose feet won’t touch grass, who cries in pain at every dog bark, who shreds his drawings if there’s even the tiniest stray mark. And when family and friends (and even doctors) offer judgmental, unsolicited advice – “You just need to lay down the law and be stricter!” – it’s impossible to know who you can talk to about your struggles. Who on earth could possibly understand the guilt, shame, and doubt that you feel?


What happens next is this: Moms start to shrivel. They internalize their trauma, their fear, their brokenness. They develop anxiety and depression. Their mental health suffers along with their self-worth. I know this with every ounce of my being. This person was me – but not anymore.


So, what changed? My son is still the wonderful, beautiful, complicated little guy he has always been. Yes, we have diagnoses and strategies now, and that helps. But the big difference is…me. I changed – no, I found myself. I accepted myself. I learned to love and forgive myself for not being able to support my neurodivergent child in those early days. I did this through what I now can see is a four step process of total and complete support. I’ll briefly explain each step here, and I invite you to place yourself on the step that matches your current needs most – and to see if you’re ready for the next step.


Step 1: Awareness


I had never even heard of the word neurodivergent before. Nor had I heard of twice exceptional. What was giftedness, anyway? What about ADHD? SPD? GAD? OCD? ODD?


I needed to first become aware that my son’s struggles were actually a thing. No, I wasn’t making this up or exaggerating. My son was neurodivergent.


Since it was so hard to find helpful information, a few years back I decided to take matters into my own hands and share candidly about what it was like to raise a neurodivergent child. I created an Instagram account (@on.the.hard.days) and to this day, I make reels, posts, and stories that simply help moms become aware of what’s going on with their neurodivergent kids. That seems to help them get ready for Step 2.


Step 2: Validation


Once I realized that my son was struggling with things that were out of his control, I needed to know that I wasn’t alone. In the beginning, I truly believed that no one in the world had a child like mine. When I finally found a mom with a similar story, I about dropped to the floor. It was a game changer. If there were other mothers out there like me, then maybe this wasn’t my fault after all! Maybe my son was doing the best he could – and so was I. I stopped blaming myself.


Knowing that validation was the key to changing the narrative I told myself about motherhood. In January 2021 I decided to start a podcast. As I mentioned earlier, the On The Hard Days podcast was my chance to share the waffle story and all the other challenges I had been facing. After a few episodes, I began bringing other moms onto the show to share their stories of raising neurodivergent kid with the goal of validating the listeners’ experiences. In the last year and half, it has done just that. On The Hard Days has been a top-rated parenting podcast in multiple countries and to date has over 45K downloads. And to think, I once believed no one would be able to relate to my story!


Step 3: Connection


As much as I loved the podcast those first few months, I found myself practically begging my guests for their number before we said goodbye. Validation was great! Amazing! But there was still something missing: Friendships. Connection. Community. I wanted to have mom friends like me whom I could call up and vent to anytime. They’d completely understand and wouldn’t judge my child or myself. I needed moms in my corner. I searched online for some sort of community to join to check off those boxes and came up empty-handed. So in August 2021, I decided to start my own.


Mothers Together, LLC has just completed its first year. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you, it completely changed my life. I found my people! But more than that, having constant support on a daily basis has changed the way I not only look at my son, but how I view myself. I’m more confident. More patient. Happier in general – yes, even on really hard days! I know that there are moms I can talk to where I can share the struggles (and the wins!) and they’ll just…get it. Here’s how it works:


When a mom signs up for this monthly membership, I ask some follow-up questions not only about her child, but about HER – what she’s looking for. What SHE needs. I’ll then take that information and match her with other moms going through a similar experience. We’ll meet on Zoom and check in with each other through video messaging on a daily basis, offering true, judgement-free support. In addition to her small support group (called a Pod Squad), she has access to ALL the moms in Mothers Together through a variety of topic threads, both in our video messenger and my created forum. That way, she can build her own support system to include as many moms centered around her specific needs as she wants. Let’s say, for example, a mother signs up and has two children, a nine year old gifted child with Autism and ADHD, and a five year old neurotypical child with anxiety. In addition to her Pod Squad, this mom might want to join the topic threads for Autism, ADHD, Giftedness, 2E, and anxiety, as well as the thread “Neurodivergent Kids with Neurotypical Siblings”. She may also be interested in the “Highly Sensitive Moms” thread, the “Gentle Parenting” thread, and the “Neurodivergent Partners” thread. She can build her own system to meet her needs.


I’m hopeful that Mothers Together can, eventually, have worldwide chapters so that moms everywhere have this resource without struggling for years before finding it.


Step 4: Transformation


About eight months into launching Mothers Together, I discovered something. Moms were feeling SO much better – they weren’t lonely anymore, and they were so happy to have friends they could bounce ideas off and vent to. However, they were still struggling with their mental health, specifically regarding how they felt about themselves. They had a hard time forgiving themselves for yelling on a hard day. They struggled still with feelings of shame, failure, and low confidence. They understood their kids now, and they had amazing friendships, but it was still so hard to believe in themselves. I felt this way, too. It’s one thing to pick yourself off the floor and press on with motherhood day after day surrounded by support, but it’s another to empower yourself and know that you, TRULY, are the best mother for your child. I realized there’s one more step in the process of total and complete wholeness: transformation.


At the time I’m writing this, I’m in the middle of creating an intensive, five month program called Mothers Evolve. My mission with this project is to help moms seeking reclaimed confidence, renewed hope, and inner peace. I’ll do this through a monthly “theme” and the help of mentors and small group coaching. We’ll have simple, tangible activities and tasks (such as journal prompts, reflection, and guided meditations) to overcome our self-doubts and accept who we are as mothers of neurodivergent kids. Mothers Evolve is set to launch in January of 2023, but I’m running a pilot “test it out” month in October of 2022. As of today, we have 175 mothers on that pilot list.


On that morning that my son was so upset over his waffle, I never would have believed that I can now empower other mothers to trust their gut instincts, accept their kids fully, and love themselves completely, but here we are. This is a topic not talked about in the parenting community, but I hope to change that, one step at a time.


Speaking of steps: I hope you were able to place yourself on one of these steps towards total and complete wholeness. Please reach out if I can help you in any way, as we cannot go through this motherhood journey without the support of others who understand it. You are truly not alone.

________________________________________________________

Contact Info for Megan Champion:



Instagram: @on.the.hard.days


Podcast: On The Hard Days (available on Apple & Spotify)


Mothers Together: ontheharddays.com/motherstogether


Mothers Evolve Pilot: ontheharddays.com/pilot

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