You remember vividly the day you got the diagnosis. Your world was shaken. This isn’t it. It wasn’t what you wanted for yourself or your child, but here we are. Now what? Where do we go from here? For a moment, the world seemed to fall apart around you. You weren’t sure what this diagnosis meant for you, for your family, or for your child. Nobody prepared you for this. Being a special needs parent is a growing process but it’s a process that you and your child can undergo together, and one that can ultimately bring you closer.
Dealing with the Grief (and Everything Else)
One aspect that we often don’t like to admit or discuss is the emotion of grief in special needs parenting. With cultural diatribes like, “children are a blessing,” and “we love our children as they are,” it’s easy to get buried in guilt. It is human to have expectations and it is human to grieve. When you get the news that this childhood will not be “normal” it can be devastating. It can also be lonely. The world becomes two populations: the parents with special needs children and the parents without. It can become quite heavy. You’re grieving the loss of the expectations, the loss for the family, and the pain that you know this will cause your child. That’s a lot to carry.
Along with the grief comes all kinds of other emotions. Anger at the unfairness of it all, jealousy at the families that don’t go through this, sadness at what your child is experiencing, loneliness at having to navigate all of these new places. It can get complicated fast! Developing skills to deal with all of this, as well as having a space to process it all, can be incredibly valuable in adjusting to what is going on with your family.
Making the Hard Choices
Once the reality of the life you’ve been handed takes hold, the new normal sets in. With this new normal comes a lot of hard choices. Does your child need special placements? To medicate or not to medicate? How much independence is too much? Are you a helicopter parent or are you just cautious? Do you sign up for resources? Do you even know what resources are available? Which doctor is best?
You’re also going to have to assist your child in making judgements for themselves about what they are and are not capable of in order to guide those around them in not underestimating their capabilities. How do you help them in knowing their own limits and still have them develop healthy self esteem? What are their limits? How do you help them try new things and learn to fail? It’s a lot for any parent but there’s added weight when special needs are involved.
It can be overwhelming to sort out where to start. Parental guilt has a new meaning when everyone has an opinion and you’re simply trying to navigate these uncharted waters as best you can for your child. How do you make these choices and not second guess yourself? How can you even trust that you know what’s best for your child? While every parent struggles with this to some degree, there is added pressure when you feel like your child is more vulnerable than most. When you have to make the hard choices, it’s crucial to trust that you know what’s best for you and your child. That can take some practice.
Being your Child’s Greatest Ally
Any good parent aims to be their child’s greatest ally but this takes on a new meaning with a special needs child. You’re going to have to navigate challenges socially, in the medical sector, and also in education.
Most parents aren’t prepared to have to go against principals, teachers, day care workers and more to offer their child the support they need. It can be critical to have someone who knows how to navigate all of this.
Finding your Family’s Strengths
While it can be easy to get stuck focusing on the pain and deficits that come with special needs, there is also a lot to learn from a challenge like having a child with special needs. They can teach us a lot. It’s important to also focus on your child’s and your family’s strengths in this situation. In the beginning, it felt like the world was over, but really it can be different in the most beautiful way. Not only can your family survive this, but you can thrive doing it.
While being a special needs family can be frightening, exhausting, and alienating, it is possible to find common ground with those around you. It’s possible to adjust and find what your “normal” is and still be able to function in a world around you that doesn’t really work to make accommodations. It’s a challenge, but it’s one that you’re up for.
Jennifer knows this battle intimately. She has two special needs children herself and knows what it means to ride this particular roller coaster. She knows that standard parenting doesn’t work. She knows that some days are just plain hard. I also know that you don’t have to do this alone. If you’re struggling and need some guidance call the office today and let’s set up a consultation. This process doesn’t have to be isolating, lonely, or as difficult as it seems. In fact, you may still find that once you sort out the details you enjoy parenting as much as you’d hoped you would.