Raising a child with special needs is challenging and time-consuming. And if there are siblings involved, making sure they feel supported and seen can be tough. My good friend, Gwen Burno has three children, one with special needs, so she understands the juggling act parents perform to keep everything running smoothly.
Gwen spoke with Beyond The Waiting Room about her experiences raising her children and the impact of the commitment to help her special needs daughter had on her relationship with her other children.
Gwen Burno is a life coach/Christian speaker, a wife and mother to Jeremy (24 years old), Mikaela (21 years old) and Kiersten (19 years old). During middle school, Mikaela was diagnosed with an intellectual disability along with ADHD.
“Up until then, she was placed on the autism spectrum, although we knew she was not autistic. So, that was a journey in and of itself because no one definitively diagnosed Mikaela’s condition until she was tested by the school psychologist.”
Gwen’s goal for Mikaela has always been to help her experience as much as possible, so the diagnosis didn’t change anything for them. Her parents continued Mikaela’s education and supported her in her studies and extracurricular activities.
Mikaela required a lot of time and attention. Getting her to and from school, tutoring and therapy, along with behavioral issues, left Gwen exhausted and drained at the end of the day. As the oldest, Jeremy was more independent, but Gwen felt that her youngest, Kiersten was impacted by the lack of attention.
“Looking back at it, Kiersten was a very compliant child, and she didn’t really create problems. She was on the quieter side, so she didn’t really make waves. She didn’t complain at all, you think that everything’s fine, and looking at the whole picture, everyone looks good, everybody’s healthy. You continue on with your parenting and trying to manage the household keep everything in order when there really is a lot of disorder within a special-needs household. “
As Mikaela matured, she became calmer, started a new medication and the dynamics of the household changed.
“I guess that’s what increased my awareness too, because things settled down somewhat, and then, too, the fact that Kiersten’s my last child, and she’s getting older. Oh my goodness, she’s going to leave home soon! Now, it’s not to say that she was neglected because, trust me, she was not. She was given much love, much attention and many opportunities. She got the private school education, music lessons, birthday parties and much more. The one-on-one connection, I felt maybe we slacked a little bit in that area, and that’s the piece that kind of nagged.”
So they talked.
“I started talking to Kiersten, not shedding light on the fact that we have special needs, because clearly she was aware of that, but sharingwith her how much it took to help Mikaela, and all it required of me. Then saying to her that I felt in the process I may have sacrificed some of our relationship in order to help Mikaela. I expressed that the behavioral challenges and trying to help Mikaela have a full life came at a cost. But at the same time, that was then. Now I want us to be closer, and I want to engage more in her life. I apologized to her for that, because clearly that was not my intention. I felt like I needed to be authentic and vulnerable, how serious I was about the situation.”
Gwen felt it was important to apologize to Kiersten and make sure she understood that she was loved and her mom always had her back.
Kiersten listened and it opened up a totally different dynamic in their relationship.
Now that her kids are older, their relationships are more organic and everybody gets a lot of attention.
Gwen wants to pay it forward and let other parents who may be dealing with the same family issues know that it’s not too late.
“If you recognize that this has occurred within your family, I want to encourage you not to live in guilt. Just get started. Today. Our children are eyewitnesses to the effects of special needs, and as a result, our kids tend to be more compassionate. So, as a mom, I need compassion too. And when I needed compassion, my children gave it to me. Each one of them at their own special time.”
Learn more about Gwen Burno at displaystrength.com.
Written by: Tamara Devers