a mom’s view of {the power of ritual} : letting go of hurt and anger while parenting a child with special needs

A few days ago I heard a woman who works as a paraprofessional in an elementary school special ed classroom totally dis the mother of two boys with special needs. It went something like this: There’s nothing wrong with those boys, it’s just bad parenting. Mom wants them to have a mini-trampoline, a plastic seat on their chairs, and to be allowed to chew gum. She says they have “sensory issues.” It’s all a load of crap. They’re just spoiled. Mom lets them get away with anything.

I felt like crying.

Do the staff at Natalie’s school talk about her like that? I wondered. Do they talk about me like that?

I could be that very mom. I’ve taken a wiggly seat to school for Nat to use. In fact, over the years, I’ve taken in any number of gizmos and gadgets—a variety of fidget toys, a weighted vest (this one from Fun & Function is awesome, by the way), a MotivAider, a b-Calm unit, a sensory sock that Natalie calls her “green monster.” I keep her stocked with gum, hard candy, and tons of ADHD-friendly snacks. Just a few weeks ago I offered to provide the school with a mini tramp, if they could find room for it. I use her sensory issues as an “excuse” to get her out of things—like watching videos—that I know will overstimulate her.

Am I the topic of conversation in the teachers’ break room? In whispered conferences between two teachers in the hallway? On Friday nights, when a member of the school staff lets off steam while she’s out to dinner with her husband? Do the speakers’ voices hold as much derision as the voice I heard? How many people out there still believe that our kids are the way they are simply because we’re terrible parents?

My pain over this incident led me to email my mama friends, Penny and Adrienne, to do my own Friday night venting. I said we should do a burning ritual at the upcoming mom’s retreat, and throw symbols of meaness and stupidity into a bonfire. I was really just letting off steam when I said that, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.

I believe that rituals have some kind of power. I don’t know if it comes from a higher power, some other unknown force in the universe, or if rituals simply facilitate a change in one’s attitude or perspective, and I don’t care—as long as they help.

Here’s my personal story of the power of ritual.

I was still single when I turned thirty. For the most part, I was okay with that. I owned my own home, had a job I was committed to. I had friends. I’d never really pictured myself married, or having a family, and I figured that was part of the reason it hadn’t happened.  But, with the advent of that milestone birthday, my attitude was changing, and I didn’t want any old baggage that might be clunking around in the back of my mind to keep me from being open to whatever my future held.

On my thirtieth birthday I performed a “letting go” ritual, inspired by something a friend had told me she saw on Oprah. On a cold, snowy December day, I stood in my back yard, and burned a buttload of old diaries, letters, and pictures in my charcoal grill. (Getting stuff like that to burn is harder than it sounds!) I was a little bit embarrassed when my roommate, Dave, came home and “caught” me.

“Barbequing?” he asked, looking somewhat puzzled.

That ritual must have changed something, somewhere, somehow, because ten days later I met my husband. (Awww. I love that story.)

I haven’t done another burning ritual, or anything like it, in the nearly 20 years that have passed since I turned 30. But now that the idea of symbolically letting go of the negative aspects of parenting a child with special needs has been planted in my mind, I really want to do something about it, whether it’s at the mama retreat, or in the fireplace in my own backyard.

Hmm, how to do it? I know (and Kirk Martin’s status updates on Facebook often remind me) that I can’t change others, I can only change myself—my own thoughts, attitudes, actions, and reactions. So I could burn a symbol of my worries about what others think of my parenting skills. I could symbolically let go of my own self-doubts and self-recriminations about being an imperfect parent. I could burn away my anger at people who say and do mean things, out of ignorance or intolerance. Wouldn’t that feel good? It would make room in my heart and mind, and free up emotional energy, for more love, patience, forgiveness.

Yes, I think I should do this; it’s time to do this. Who wants to do it with me? And how exactly should we do it?

(photo from www.mota.ru)

Kay Marner is the co-editor of the book “Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories.” Marner is a frequent contributor to ADDitude magazine, and writes an ADHD parenting blog, “My Picture-Perfect Family,” for ADDitudeMag.com.

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adhd and school, adhd and stress, adhd sensory integration, awareness, caregiver stress, classroom accommodations, fidgeting, General ADHD, Kay Marner, parenting, parenting ADHD, school behavior, Take Care of You, taking care of you ·

About the author

Kay Marner is the co-editor of the book "Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories." Marner is a frequent contributor to ADDitude magazine, and writes an ADHD parenting blog, "My Picture-Perfect Family," for ADDitudeMag.com.


  1. Michalelaine says:

    I would do this with you. I have two special needs children and often experience the emotions you experienced and can openly relate to you. I believe that I feel better about my parenting insecurities when I do something special for my kids.

  2. Flannery says:

    What a wonderful idea.  So many of us carry around the hurt, and paranoia, that accompanies raising a child with special needs.  “Are they talking about me, judging me, judging my son?”  Yes, letting go is powerful…I need to do that too.

  3. adhdmomma says:

    I LOVE you! I laughed out loud at the image of you burning diaries in a charcoal grill when you were 30! Still chuckling! However, I believe there is real power in the mind and this is a wonderful way go through some physical motions of letting go.

    I am going to talk with my co-hosts on the retreat, but I’d love to pull off something like this on Saturday night at the retreat! It can be very powerful. 

    {on another note, a note of my addictions} this totally reminds me of the Friends episode where the girls burned pictures of old boyfriends and stuff in their apartment and then had to call 911! See it (and all Friends episodes) a hundred times and I still laugh uncontrollably, thinking it’s silly, but it really isn’t. 

  4. adhdmomma says:

    I want to also comment about the teachers talking about us behind our backs. I am normally very over-concentrated on what people think of me. However, I learned to give that up in the school setting on year two of fighting for Luke’s needs at school. I had to just throw caution to the wind, take a huge breath, and tell it like it is, for the sake of my kid. It was actually liberating too. Now, I can guarantee you, after this year, there have been dozens of hours of conversations about me in school administration offices across the county. 🙂 And I’m ok with that. This is one area where it’s imperative that we make waves. 

  5. Julie says:

    I love this idea. I have been having a hard time letting go of the idea of what it all was supposed to be like. This is a great tool to move beyond that and start living with the here and now.  

  6. Leah says:

    What a great idea!! After the year we have had and the schools attitude and blatant lack of cooperation I have finally pulled my son from traditional school setting. I think this would be a great way for he and I to let go of our feeling towards this school!! Thank you for sharing.

  7. Caroline says:

    So many of these attitudes could be dealt with if the employees were actually educated about the students they work with, and what their diagnoses are. I don’t think it takes much education to be a parapro (at least not in my state–I’ve worked at an elem. school). If they’re in special ed, they ought to be required to read info, written by legit medical experts but in layman’s terms, about what the different disorders are, how they present, and some of the therapies to use.


  8. I LOVE RITUALS!  I think they are very powerful and can help you get “unstuck” from something.  I hope you have that fire at the retreat, Kay!  You could have one big burning ritual, and then have little mini-rituals to keep your momentum going. 

  9. Pamela says:

    Oh, I hurt for that other Mom and you. And for me. And all the other Moms. I believe in the power of ritual, and I thin kit’s a great idea.

  10. I will do this.  With you, and every other parent.  For me, the self-doubt and critical voice inside is the toxic one: why didn’t I make him read tonight, why can’t I get him to do homework without crying, why did I let him watch Star Wars instead of riding his bike, maybe I should have fed him more organics when he was a baby, why can’t I get him to agree with something, anything, I say.  Always, it’s my fault.  I would love to burn that, silence the voice.  I love my son, I would lay down my life for him without a thought, I forgive him and am truly grateful for him. He forgives me all the time.   Why can’t I accept myself the way I accept him–even when I buy strawberries that aren’t organic?

  11. Annette Gumm says:

    OMG – I am so with you and cannot wait to do that at the momma retreat.  I need to think of what could symbolize this for me. Maybe old copies of IEPs or nasty emails from teachers or… It sounds really liberating.


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The "ADHD Mommas" are not medical or mental health professionals, nor an ADHD coach. Any opinions shared here are just that, opinions. I, and the other "ADHD Mommas," are sharing our experiences with our own ADHD children. Please do not re-post or publish any content or photos without a link back to {a mom's view of ADHD}. Have the courtesy to give credit where credit is due. Copyright protected. All rights reserved.

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