All parents go through different challenges with their children. They might have a child who struggles particularly with eating. A child who has trouble dealing with their emotions. A child who lacks confidence. Or some other type of challenge. For me, I have three children with a specific language impairment (SLI).
Before each of my children turned one year old, I instinctively knew that something wasn't right with their speech and language. Thankfully, early intervention and speech therapy has benefited them greatly.
Although it's been a very challenging journey for our family, I've learnt a lot from my three, five and seven-year-old. Having young children who could do nothing else but grunt or point their finger to communicate – helps you to think twice about your role as a parent.
Here are the six lessons I've learnt about parenting - from my experiences of having language delayed children.
1. Patience, empathy and compassion are everything
One of the hardest parts of being a parent is dealing with our children's emotions. They might want a treat in the supermarket so they decide to scream the place down. They become upset at the park when another child is using the swing. Or maybe they're simply tired or hungry, so they act out in frustration.
As a mum of three language delayed children, I know the utmost importance in speaking to children with kindness and respect, as opposed to yelling at them. When you're feeling overwhelmed, it's so easy to lose patience with your kids. But I've found that by trying my best to stay calm and putting myself in my kids' shoes – I'm much more likely to solve the problem at hand. When I've tried to validate my children's feelings, they know their feelings matter even if they didn't get what they wanted originally.
2. There are so many ways to make a child feel loved
When you have kids who struggle with understanding and expressing language, communication becomes less focused on words but more on actions. I've learned that even when children can't understand exactly what 'love' is, they can feel it through the way that you treat them.
I know this because I have laughed with my girls. Danced and sung with them. Hugged them tightly and kissed their foreheads. Sat down on their picnic rug and pretended to sip on tea. Read books with a lively, animated voice. Taken them out to the park and cheered them on as they climbed up walls on the playground.
My girls have taught me that giving a child your undivided time and attention is what's most important.
3. Your needs are important too
I have spent most of my parenting years tending to the needs of my daughters. I've attended hundreds of appointments, spent hours filling out developmental questionnaires, participated in different kinds of speech therapy.
I wanted to do what was best for my children, but I neglected my own needs completely. I thought it was selfish to do anything for myself – to leave the kids with someone else, to put more effort into how I looked, to want to balance a career with motherhood.
But since having date nights with my husband and having a wider group of friends, doing things for myself, and now working from home as a freelance writer - I've become a happier mother, wife, friend and person, overall.
I've realised that looking after your own needs is essential to your role as a parent.
4. Don't listen to the negative opinions of others
I've had people, even those closest to me, insist that my children didn't need speech therapy. In fact, they even hinted that my husband and I must be at fault. Although hearing that hurt us deeply at the beginning, we've learned that you can't stop others from judging but you can choose how it affects you. Both of us have continued to hold our heads up high and do what's best for our family.
5. You don't have to be perfect
When my youngest was two years old, I reached a point where I felt completely helpless. Unlike her older sisters, Amelia exhibited very high levels of anxiety due to her language delay. She wasn't just grunting and pointing – she was panting and crying when she couldn't get her words out. I remember doing the afternoon school run and crying to myself as my youngest lay asleep in the back of the car. I felt like a complete failure.
A year has passed since then and Amelia is no longer the same child she once was. She has made massive improvements in her speech and language. She is a much more calmer and relaxed child now.
In retrospect, I know that my personal circumstances at the time played a big role. But I did the very best I could given my situation. Children will test your patience more on some days than others – and it's okay if you lose your cool sometimes, it's okay if you don't always know what the right thing to do is. You're not a failure. Your children are learning and so are you.
6. All parents have different challenges
For the past seven and a half years, these have been my challenges. These are the adversities I've faced as a parent. These are the things that make my family unique.
Being the mother of three language delayed children has also made me realise that all parents have their own challenges. That on top of the everyday struggles, they have their own circumstances that make being a parent just a bit harder for their family.
And although you can never really know what's going on in a person's mind, you can give them a piece of your heart. You can show them empathy, kindness and compassion. You can lend a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, some encouraging words to brighten up their day.
My kids have come a long way – my eldest moved from a specialist to mainstream school this year and is doing wonderfully, my middle daughter has made massive gains in her reading and writing, and my youngest is now the confident child I always knew she was.
It's been a very challenging few years, but I'm grateful that I've become a better person because of those challenges.
Thuy Yau is a freelance writer and mother of three. She is passionate about personal development and psychology. You can follow Thuy on Twitter, join her on Facebook, or read her blog at Inside a Mother's Mind.