Stories of Parents Raising Children with and without Down Syndrome


Having more than one child and being fair when giving each of them attention is not an easy task, but it’s even more challenging if one of them has special needs, like Down syndrome. Children with Down syndrome may require more attention, special services and sometimes, medical or developmental treatments on regular basis. All of the above interrupt the flow of parenting and, when multiple children are involved, someone is bound to get the short-end of the attention stick.

Nati Gonzales shares her story of raising three children, one of them with Down syndrome, with us today. We are honored to feature her here to spread the love and empowerment parents need to be successful and thrive as caregivers to both typical children and kids with special needs.

Being a parent of a big family is always challenging. I have two brothers, so I always knew how hard it is for parents to raise three kids. My brothers and I, we all had different needs and interests during our growth and development. Our different personalities made everything more complicated for our parents, who never gave up on raising us with the same values, opportunities, and rules.

Today I’m the mother of three children myself, so I can see my own story taking place in front of my eyes one more time. My kids are totally different from one another yet so very alike at the same time; they all have different ideas, whims, and dreams. I know that they will find their respective ways and that they will probably all have different paths.

For seven years my only child was my eldest daughter. During those years it was easy to comply with her demands. I was focused on her, and she had no competition. She’d choose what to eat, where to go, and how and when to do much of our daily activities.

When my second child was born, my world changed a lot. Having another child after seven years is not easy and it took me a while to get reacquainted with the constant needs of a newborn and looking back, I think I even experienced a couple days of depression. I loved my baby the day he was born. He was precious and well-behaved, but motherhood sometimes is overwhelming and puts a lot of pressure on us. I felt the pressure immensely.

My third child, Olivia, came a couple of years later. She was born with Down syndrome. To be totally honest about it, getting used to and understanding her special needs wasn't easy. Eventually things started to fit correctly, however, but beginnings are always hard. To set a routine that allowed everyone to get the right attention was not an easy thing to achieve.

As the new mom of a child with Down syndrome, I focused on Olivia’s needs as my top priority. I wanted to act fast to give her the very best start at everything in life. In the process of doing so, I made some mistakes that I understand now:

  • I used to believe that my older children didn’t need as much attention and support as Olivia did, as they didn’t have special needs. They were doing great at school, so I thought I could focus all my attention on my child with Down syndrome.
  • On the other hand, I thought that Olivia’s development was a priority, as we didn’t have much time to counter her developmental challenges. I didn’t want to lose a second of her life. I always knew that her future was in my hands, especially because I didn’t have a clear idea of what the future might hold for her.

After a couple of months living like that, neglecting my older children’s needs while overwhelming myself completely with Olivia’s, a call from my son’s teacher opened my eyes to reality. He was having problems with basic things like holding his pencil correctly. The teacher said he didn’t have the proper skills and that it was very important to give him the attention he needed to correct this (as well as some other) problem.

A week before this incident, I was celebrating that Olivia had learned to hold a pencil by herself. I was incredibly proud of her. I even uploaded some pictures of her feat, but unconsciously I took for granted that my son would do it with no problems, entirely independently, and I neglected his personal needs.

I felt terrible. I realized that my obsession with stimulating and facilitating Olivia’s development was placing my other kids in second place. That was a teaching moment that I’ll never forget as it changed my priorities for ever. I then understood that each one of my children need my love and full attention, and instead of focusing on one’s special needs, I needed to create an ideal environment where we would work alongside one another as a family and a team to grow up and learn together.

I’ve always loved my kids with the same love, but when you have a child with special needs, it’s not unusual to dedicate more time to this child as you’re often left thinking that he or she is at a disadvantage compared to others and that the others can do things by themselves. I’ve learned my lesson and I now enjoy watching them grow up together. My son has taught my daughter to talk. My oldest daughter is a role model for them both, and is always doing special things like reading stories aloud, playing games, and singing songs to her little brother and sister. All those are special and natural things that siblings do for each other disability or not. Who would have thought that it was part of my role as mother to stand by and let them work together to take care of one another in ways I never could?!

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