I don't think of myself as tough. I feel every slight, every scratch. They all hurt.
However, over the past few years I have come to realize that I am strong. Very strong. When circumstances require I am jaw clenched, fists curled, in-your-face, f* you strong. Even if I have tears before and after, I have the strength to act in the moment.
Over the past three and a half years, I've gone through many trials and tribulations. I've gotten divorced. I've stood up for my children, sometimes even against their mother, to ensure their needs were met.
Sometimes it is relatively easy. When Oldest Son was having major trouble at school, it wasn't that hard to get what I wanted. I had invested enough time and energy with the school district. I remember MomC expressing surprise that they agreed to pay for a private school placement for him for 7th grade. I wasn't. It was clear to them that we knew what he needed, what the district had to offer (not enough), and most importantly that I couldn't be rolled--if they proposed something that didn't meet Oldest's needs they would have a fight on their hands.
Other times it is hard. Very hard. About a year and a half after our divorce, some things happened at MomC's house that I was very unhappy about. I told MomC that it was time for Middle Son to come and live with me. I have powerful memories of the moment. I was standing on the curb outside the doctors office. My jaw was clenched and my fists were curled. MomC was initially surprised. Then indignant. Then she spun on her heel and walked away. And a few weeks later I had a nanny hired and Middle was living with me, going to MomC's on Tuesday and every other weekend.
Some time later, my mother related to me a conversation she had with my brother's wife. She said that she had never imagined that I would turn out to be so strong. My response was "me either."
I think that most parents find levels of strength they didn't know that they had when they realize that they are responsible for the lives of the new human beings that they've created. And if their children turn out to have extraordinary needs, they may discover extraordinary strengths.