In today’s guest post, Laurie Wallin answers questions pertinent to many parents of kids with special needs. What do you do when your kids hurt their grandparents’ feelings? And how do grandparents do special needs grandparenting when building a relationship with them is difficult. Read on to find out how her family handles situations like that.

Special Needs Grandparenting: When They Won’t Hug Grandma

We flew 8 hours with 4 kids and umpteen bags across the country to visit Grandma. Within 2 minutes they’d already hurt her feelings.

Expect Stress

It’s always been stressful to balance the expectations of extended family and the needs of my two older girls, adopted as toddlers from foster care. Both their difficult history and their bipolar diagnoses add up to one big misunderstanding waiting to happen with well-meaning family members.

This time was no different. They’re older now, and more socially adept (with much therapy, medication, and practice!) but it didn’t make a lick of difference when we walked in to Grandma’s home and they 1) wouldn’t look at her, and 2) one of them had a fall-on-the-floor meltdown 3 minutes after we arrived. No amount of “when we get to Grandma’s house, please say hello, then find a quiet place to get used to the house” seemed to help.

Deal With Broken Expectations

I stood, still in the doorway, crestfallen, despite KNOWING deep down that this isn’t an intentional offense against Grandma. But she couldn’t hide it in her face. The twinge of disappointment – of rejection – behind her eyes. I know that look… too well, even these many years after adopting my girls.

It never gets easier to manage that first moment of broken expectations. Or to recoup that loss and move on to a pleasant visit. It takes persistent, gentle reminding – both of our relatives, and of ourselves – to respond with grace to our kids’ continued special needs. When we are diligent to do that work, it’s amazing what joys wait just around the corner from that first awkward moment (or entire day).

Focus on Good Memories

For us, the payoff was a fabulous carnival experience! On day 3 of the visit, we spent the afternoon at the Miami county fair. It was our first foray into the world of crowded, sensory-and-sugar-overloaded silliness. And it was a blast! Our kids, to outside observers, were just like any other cotton-candy-eating, carnival-game-playing, roller-coaster-riding kids there. It was an amazing gift of a memory for the whole family.

Including Grandma. Who spent the day chasing them around in her scooter… winning their hearts with each mischievous smile. I’m pretty sure their squeals of laughter reminded her how much she matters to them too. Even if they sometimes can’t show it.

How Do You Do It?

Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment about how  you overcome disappointments or awkward special needs grandparenting moments. Or leave a question asking for advice, if you like. And check out Laurie’s blog at for more practical advice from someone who is actively parenting kids with special needs.

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