When we decided to dedicate October to moms who have kiddos with Down syndrome we reached out to several moms who we admire and we are absolutely pinching ourselves that Karen responded. She is another amazing mom to follow on instagram (@karenjp0915) if you are a new parent to a child with DS or even a new parent in general. She has a lot of experience being a mom (and a grandma) to her 12-year old son Caleb and his three older siblings. She talks about the importance of parenting each child individually, what is was like to get Caleb’s diagnosis, and how Caleb is “more alike than different”. Please help us welcome Karen into our Mom of Fame!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.
My name is Karen and I’ve been married 30 years (!) to my husband David. Between us, we have 4 children and 3 grandchildren (with one on the way). Caleb, our son with Down syndrome, is the youngest at age 12. His sister Courtney will be 30 later this year. He also has a half-brother (39) and half-sister (41). We cover all ages in our family 🙂
What is the best piece of advice you were given about motherhood? Did you take it? Would you give that piece of advice to someone else?
I’ve been blessed with many wonderful role models in motherhood, including my own mother. So much good advice; it’s hard to narrow it down to one piece. But if I had to, it would be to parent each child individually. That each child has their own strengths, interests, opportunities and challenges. Providing an environment to help them each learn their own path can be tricky, but look for the “helpers” – circles of support. Churches, community groups, schools, etc. can be great lifelines to broadening the path for your child(ren).
How is motherhood different than you imagined it would be?
Wow. It’s harder and it gets harder as they grow up!
It’s such a blessing to be a parent, and it’s also a responsibility. Helping your child find out who they are; what they want to be – it’s work! But wonderful work. I’m very proud of my children and whatever they want to be or do, I try to support them and guide them.
Love them unconditionally. Be there for them.
What are your three strengths when it comes to motherhood?
I’m a “doer” – if there’s something that needs to be done to support my children, I’m there. They know I’m in their corner – loving them unconditionally. I try to be an example for them – for their faith and for giving back. Volunteering was a huge role in my upbringing and I’ve tried to instill that in my kids too.
Describe a time where you were completely overwhelmed as a mother.
When our son Caleb was born with Down syndrome.
I felt like I was suffocating at first; like the world would never be right again. I had no knowledge of people with challenges – what their lives were like or how to mother someone with a difference. It took time, it took support, it took him guiding us and teaching us.
We eventually found the path wasn’t so different. It’s challenging for sure, but it’s a beautiful thing to recognize that our world has broadened so much by having Caleb in our lives.
Is there anything you feel that you have lost about yourself since becoming a mother? What have you gained?
When I was young, all I ever really wanted to be was a “mom”. So I would say not really. I’ve had quite an eclectic career path including both for-profit and not-for-profit roles. All those roles though had led me to meet the most interesting people, and really prepared me for who I am today and what I do now.
What do you want your child(ren) to learn from you?
Love, kindness, empathy, responsibility, community, faith, friendship.
Since it is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, what is the most important thing you want people to know about Down syndrome or about being a mom to a child with Down syndrome?
I could write on this point for a dozen pages or so, but I would love people – especially parents who don’t have children with unique (special) needs to know that our lives are not so different than yours (in our personal experience). Day-to-day living with Caleb is very similar to bringing up his sister – school, church, activities, friends, responsibilities. We depend more on supports with Caleb (therapies, etc). but we also have plenty of wonderful activities to do each week and throughout the year. Our local community is very supportive of people with differences, and that’s been huge for us.
There are things that we have and will put into place for Caleb that we didn’t have to with Courtney and our older children – financial strategies and educational plans. We look ahead and plan more for him most definitely. But there are many who love Caleb and are there for him – helping him to become the best he can be. Whether that’s owning his own business, or working for someone else, we hope and pray that he grows into a productive, happy young man who loves the Lord and loves his fellow man. Including him in community events and traveling has helped.
I would ask other parents to teach their children about “difference”. That having special needs or being a different skin color adds to a beautiful variety to community – wherever you might live. We believe that Caleb is “more alike than different” but also the “different is beautiful” too.