“I think that we have to uplift other parents and not tear each other down,” Lori Wathen said. She is the PTA president at Robin Hill Public School in Norman, where her son, Reis, is a second-grader.
Reis, 9, has Down syndrome and is thriving in his second-grade class with typical students.
“We take so much pride and so much joy in those smaller accomplishments because it takes our kids longer to get there,” she said.
Wathen rejoiced recently when Reis finally graduated from pullup diapers to big boy pants. Her peer parents told her it would happen, but Wathen had been worried.
A tight-knit community
Since the day Reis was unexpectedly born with Down syndrome, Wathen said she's immersed herself in the local community of parents of children with disabilities.
She is the historian for Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma (DASCO) and has worked for the last three years at Sooner Success, an organization that provides information and resources to families raising a child with a disability.
“I feel like in this position I am able to give back to what was given to me when Reis was born,” she said.
When Reis was born, another mother immediately came to Wathen's side to offer support and information.
That mother was Lisa Hancock, of southwest Oklahoma City, who then was a neonatal nurse at Norman Regional Hospital. Hancock has two daughters in their 20s — Heather, 28, has Down syndrome and Jennifer, 25, is typical.
“Special needs parents want to help each other. We want to share information,” Hancock said.
The dynamic between typical parents versus special needs parents is “just different,” she said.
“I think sometimes parents of children without disabilities might withhold information because it might give someone else an edge.”
Parents of typical children tend to be more competitive with each other than special needs parents, Hancock said.
“They want their kids to be the best. Better than your kid — that kind of mentality,” she said.
Of course, not all parents of typical children have this attitude, but it is more prevalent among parents of typical kids than parents of kids with disabilities, she said.
“We're out there to help each other navigate through,” Wathen said. “We want to make life better for each other.”
“We want to have small moments of triumphs and gifts,” Totten said.
Finding the gift in every day, even if it was a tough day, was what got Totten started writing her blog.
“If it's a tough day, we want to be able to find the good in it.”
Lessons for all
What can parents of typical kids learn from parents of special needs kids?
“I think as women and mothers, we need to come from a place of sisterhood,” Totten said.
Don't take corners and fight over parenting styles, she advises.
Identify the things that are really important to you as a parent and let other parents do the same.
“We don't sweat the small stuff,” Wathen adds. “We have bigger things to worry about rather than if we're breast-feeding for too long or whatever.”
“There's a lot of big stuff you need the energy to battle. Pick your battles. Some things aren't even worth fighting for.”