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What I've Learned from Zion

Parenting any child has its challenges, and there are lots of things I used to get away with as a single person that simply don't fly now that I have someone else to care for. Like anyone caring for a child, parenting Zion, my son with special needs, has taken me to places within myself—and in the world—that I never knew existed. Here are five things I have learned along the way.

Self-care

I have learned that looking after myself is primary. I must do all I can to stay healthy, happy and energetic. Why? My son has more energy than six children. He resists sleeping and wants to play all the time. So since his birth, I've made deep changes in every aspect of my lifestyle.

The most extreme choice I've made? I removed all processed food and sugars out of my (and my family's) diet. The result for me has been 30 pounds of weight loss, more energy and a better all-around attitude.

Self-care also includes asking for help. I have friends who spend time with my son while I write, attend a yoga class or spend an evening with other moms. And I haven't given up my most important form of self-care, which is nurturing my dream. I love writing, political activism, public speaking and life-coaching other women.

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When my son was born and I dedicated myself to helping him fulfill his potential, I made myself the same promise. Fulfilling my own potential is as necessary as my son reaching his.

Intuition

I think one of the greatest gifts in parenting is our intuition. I believe we all have that quiet voice or deep feeling within us that guides and helps us as parents. For the first year of my son's life he never passed a hearing test. Nearly every week I visited some kind of specialist or therapist to have his hearing tested, but none of the tests were conclusive. At home he was responding to sounds I could barely hear. He'd hear keys at the door and sirens in the neighborhood. I felt he could hear.

My intuition told me to trust what I was experiencing at home. After a year, an expert finally suggested a brain scan, which proved what I had known all along: My son could hear perfectly.

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Advocacy

Before Zion was born, I'd do my best to stay small and out of the way. I never wanted to seem like too much trouble. The thought of people thinking I was needy or demanding made me cringe. I learned quickly that this behavior might be good enough for me as a single person, but when I became a mom I would have to start asking and in fact sometimes scream, for what was needed.

Zion's first pediatrician told me it was probable that he would have many disabilities and a low IQ. He also suggested that he might get leukemia. I couldn't believe my ears. As a frightened new mother, I was appalled that a doctor would be so careless and insensitive. Rather than simply believe him, I asked the doctor if he could hold his predictions for a time when I was less scared and more familiar with my son.

As soon as I went home I began looking for a new doctor.

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The same is true for public school and other agencies that support our family. I often find myself being told by professionals what they think is best for my son and what they can and can't do. I was taught not to question authority, but I can tell you that every year Zion gets older I am getting better and better at it. I am the person who spends nearly every moment with him, and I have to believe that ultimately I can best decide what is right for my son.

Surrender

I have had to surrender my idea of what my child's life will be and follow his lead. Having a child with special needs has given me permission to follow his highest potential. I allow him to lead me to what he desires and loves, and then I support him. For instance, my son learns best through interactive play and discovery. I've watched him light up when teachers, therapists and I engage him through play. He loves to discover new things and usually remembers each of his discoveries.

The other day we visited a school that is being recommended for kindergarten. My son's father and I watched as eight children sat in a circle naming numbers, colors, days of the week and months from the board. They didn't seem excited, engaged or involved. The teacher was giving directions from another area in the room. Within seconds I knew this classroom would not be a good fit for Zion. I left the room ready to ask for another choice that I know will more gracefully and effectively serve my son's process.

Belief

I believe in Zion's ability to meet his potential. There is no doubt in my mind that my son will have a wonderful, fulfilling life. As his mother I feel it's my job to remind him of his worth and ability to contribute his unique gifts to every environment he finds himself in.

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My belief in my son has forced me to believe more in myself. How can I possibly hold him to a standard I have not lived up to, myself? When Zion was about 3 months old I watched him from a monitor as he attempted to turn from his back to his belly. He tried 13 times before he was actually successful. He never gave up or cried. That day I decided to believe in him and his ability with greater strength than anything that a professional said about him.

I would not let Down Syndrome determine the value of his life, but instead I would help him believe in himself and always give his best. I look forward to the first time I tell him the story of watching him never give up. I realized he had come to be my teacher.

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