When you are the parent of a child with special needs, what do you do when feelings like anger, guilt, envy and hopelessness emerge? Not only are these emotions painful, but they seem almost illegitimate for a parent to have.

We can’t control what we feel, but we do have one important choice to make about our feelings. We can try to ignore them or we can acknowledge them.To ignore our feelings is akin to sweeping things under the rug; things might look all right on the surface, but sooner or later you are bound to trip over the bump.

In the early days of my son’s diagnosis with autism,I was often in a fog. I was constantly busy, bringing my son to appointments and talking with specialists, but a part of me wasn’t really able to process what was going on. And then, in the presence of some dear friends, I gave voice to the grief that I felt. It was difficult to do this; I felt raw and exposed. But afterward, I noticed that I felt much more clear and present, as if my tears had opened up more space for me to think.

Acknowledging our feelings, especially in the presence of people who can understand, is a step toward developing compassion for ourselves, an essential aspect of moving from surviving to thriving.