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Survival Mode Strength

April 2, 2014

Have you ever stopped to think about the person you were before you became a special parent? How did you spend your days? What was your main focus? What did you do in your spare time?

I've often thought about my life "B.D." (Before the Disability). I've asked myself these questions and more, and I think about them periodically. But the most important questions I ask are, what kind of skills and strengths did I have before my amazing daughter came into my world? How have I changed for the better since the days of constant survival mode? What have I learned about myself that I never knew before?

It's easy to think back on the things we used to do that we may not have time for now. It's easy to think about the fact that we had less stress and pressure in our lives, but I enjoy thinking about the person I've become thanks to my daughter.

I truly believe this journey we are on provides us with a platform to find out who we were meant to be--what we were born to do and become. We may get lost on the way and there are many bumps in the road, but I've learned that these detours are all part of the plan. We have learned to be in survival mode for as long as it takes; for some of us it is months, others years, and for some it is continual. Survival mode is an integral part of this process of molding us, and bringing out strengths in us that we never knew existed. It forces us to dig down deep and realize we were chosen by God to walk this journey.

I have been on this road with my daughter for eleven years, and I am constantly reminded of how He is still in the process of fine tuning all that I am supposed to do and learn--not only to enable me to care for her effectively, but also so that I will use everything I've gained through each step in every area of my life.

I was recently reminded in a way I never saw coming. It was a twist in the road that I did not anticipate. My husband was recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. All of a sudden, our life stopped. Even though it stopped, I was forced back into survival mode. I had no choice. He required intense, inpatient chemotherapy, spending most days in the hospital. Even though I was in a fog, I was reminded of all the things I've learned. While in the hospital with him, I quickly learned the medical terminology and medications, I became familiar with his side effects, and how to help him manage them. Through each and every emotion that emerged, I realized all of these things were familiar in some way. I was, to a certain degree, (for a lack of a better word), comfortable. I truly feel that I was able to function and focus during this crisis because survival mode has become part of who I am. Because of the disability that entered our world eleven years ago, I am a stronger than I ever imagined.

I absolutely do not wish any ill will or crisis to you or your family, but know that because of your special needs child, you too have become a different person. Even if you don't realize it now, it has allowed you to become the person that you were meant to be. Survival mode may feel uncomfortable to you right now. You may not be able to imagine anything positive ever coming out of where you find yourself at this moment on your journey--but know that it is preparing you to overcome any future obstacles on your path with confidence and strength.

Maria Smaldino Spencer is a special Mom to Olivia; she and her family reside in Poland, OH. She is a Parent Consultant and Inspirational Speaker. For more information regarding her services,she can be reached at



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