From the outside, one could look at my children and see three charming, cute, and spirited kiddos. However, one could not see the behavioral issues, emotional struggles, and academic challenges. I have always referred to my kids having “extra” needs.

What this means for our family and the way we parent is that we have to do our best to fill in the gaps of these needs. Some days are great. No meltdowns. No aggression. No tears. Other days are, well, not so great. We have learned to accept that this is our story of parenting and that our experiences are different from most of our peers.

We have been at this “parenting kids with extra needs thing” for 11 years and have learned a whole lot more than we even thought we needed to learn. Here is some advice for adoptive parents of kids with extra needs.

1. When people don’t understand what you are struggling with, don’t take it personally. People often feel the need to remedy others’ issues by offering advice. Sometimes, the advice is spot on. Other times, it can come off as hurtful and completely impractical given what you are going through. Some people will judge or question your parenting choices. Don’t take it personally.  Instead, look at it as an opportunity to correct and provide knowledge.

2. Along the same line as number one, don’t take what your kids do or say personally, either. I know this can be really, really hard. When your child spits at you, screams, tries to hit you, or just says something that cuts right through to your own insecurities, it can create sadness, anger, and frustration. It also feels very personal. Try to remember that your child’s reaction is less about you and more about what he or she has been through or is dealing with internally.

3. Find others who “get it” and find the time to talk to them. There is a whole wealth of hands-on knowledge out there, and most of it tends to come from parents who have walked the path of parenting kids with extra needs. From my own personal experience, I have sat and both cried and laughed hysterically with other adoptive mommas; we cried at the shared heartbreak and laughed at the antics of our kids (that not everyone will understand). It does your soul a lot of good to feel heard and understood.

4. Never be afraid to stand up and speak out for your child or other children you know who have extra needs. Our kids deal with so much. We have to be their advocates, counselors, cheerleaders, and teachers. We need to always be their voice when they cannot find it.

5. Be honest and patient with yourself. If you had a bad parenting day, admit it. Say you’re sorry and consider what you could do better the next time. None of us are superhuman or able to handle every little thing just right. It’s okay. Just keep trying.

6. Be willing to do your research! This includes the topics of behavior management and techniques, appropriate sports and extracurricular activities, academic tools, and medication/health information. While there is a lot of information out there, do your research with your child and his or her needs in mind.

7. Sing their praises! It is tough to be on behavior management mode all of the time. It doesn’t really feel good at all. However, if you make a habit of seeing the strengths your child has and proclaiming them, both you and your child will benefit. Big time.

8. Never give up. You may not see immediate results from your efforts, but you have planted seeds that could one day blossom into an incredible, fruitful life. Understand that you do mean a whole heck of a lot to your child even if it doesn’t feel that way at times. Your child is watching you and learning from you. One of the best ways to teach resilience is to model it. Never lose hope!

In my own experience, I had to come to terms with parenting and looking and feeling different than what I had imagined or dreamed it to be. I have grieved this. However, I have also come to terms with the incredible gift that comes along with parenting children who enter our lives through foster care and adoption. I have focused on putting away the mom I wanted to be and replacing her with the mom my children need.

Parenting kids with extra needs is tough, but it is also rewarding. Never forget that anything you do for a child is not in vain. It is important to the child and to the world.