Before becoming a mother, I was one of the most extroverted people I knew. I loved to be out of the house, whether it was for a social gathering or a trip to the grocery store.
My favorite form of self-care was a trip to a busy coffee shop, where I would people watch and hope to stumble into a conversation with a friend or stranger.
When my son was born, I still loved to get out of the house.
I enjoyed showing off my baby and conversations came easily.
When my son was just a few months old, my husband and I became foster and adoptive parents to children who have long lists of diagnoses.
I remember vowing to not become a family who felt that we were prisoners of our home. We committed to pursuing social engagements and outings as our new, unique family.
However, we quickly noticed the stark differences between outings with our biological son and outings with our new additions who happened to have special needs.
Suddenly, it seemed as if we parted crowds whenever we left the house.
People stepped out of our way and turned to stop and stare.
If we were approached, it was so that someone could ask questions, or say one of those, “I could never do what you do” type of phrases that special needs families are all too familiar with. And yet, we still tried.
Not only did we want to continue experiencing the outside world, but we wanted the world to see and get to know just how amazing all of our children are.
But outing after outing, the experiences wore on us.
I tried attending mommy groups and found that my children and I stuck out like a sore thumb.
Trips to the park became incredibly high-stress as I tried to make sure all my children had something to participate in while I guarded them from the rude stares and remarks of other children and parents.
I found that even the times that I left the house by myself could not be enjoyed the way they used to.
It was hurtful to feel that I had to leave my children—the biggest part of myself—at home in order to be accepted or approachable.
The breaking point for me was a trip to the grocery store.
In an attempt to divide and conquer, my husband took five children to look for a few items and I took one of our children who as special needs to grab something on the other side of the store.
Suddenly, a little girl who was probably ten years old and the adult with her began chasing after my daughter and I, yelling about how disgusting and horrible my little girl was.
They followed me yelling for several minutes until I was able to find a security guard.
After that experience, I was changed.
I longed for a world where ignorant minds would be opened to new experiences and kindness.
While I have not given up on that dream, I have also found the freedom to protect my family fiercely.
These days Before we leave the house as a family, my husband and I check with each other and make sure that our hearts are in a place to be protective of our own family while also being willing to graciously teach strangers what life is really about.
If we feel that our family is not in a place to graciously teach and lead by example, we try not to leave the house.
We realize that somedays we just do not have the strength to interact with the outside world, and that is ok.
Our home has become a haven--a place where we can let our guard down and fully enjoy the uniqueness of our family, both in beauty and struggle.
We have found the boldness to let others know when we just need time to ourselves, and have become far less willing to place our children in situations where they will not be enjoyed and adored with open hearts and mind.
If I’m being honest, I do miss the social life, outings, and connections I used to have.
Perhaps someday leaving the house will become a treat once again, but in the meantime, my heart is so grateful for the treasures my haven of a home overflows with.