Could you use more support in your life? Who couldn’t, right?
In a recent survey I conducted, from among 15 options, almost all of you responded that you would like to hear more about support for parents or caregivers of special needs children. That’s a lot of consensus, and it didn’t surprise me!
Today we begin a 7-blog series to reflect upon the issue of support.
Over the next three months, we will look at various kinds of support, examine our preconceived concepts, and explore a way that is perhaps more helpful in creating more—and better—support in our lives.
Each new blog will offer links to previous ones in the series. And at the end of each, I’ll suggest an activity for you to do during the upcoming two weeks.
By the end of this series, it is my hope that you will have more fully clarified your perceptions about support systems and will have achieved small shifts that ultimately lead to a greater sense of inner peace.
Let’s Get Started
In my own experience, and in talking with parents and caregivers of special needs children, it is clear that feelings of isolation and alienation are all too common. These feelings can range from mild to very extreme.
Why are these feelings so common?
On a practical level, the time and energy demands of taking care of a special needs child are intense. The demands often lead us to drift away from friends and activities we once enjoyed. There is less commonality with old friends who can’t relate, as well as less time to make new friends with those who do.
On a deeper level (and this tends to be true of all families) there is often a gap between the outside perception and how we feel inside. What we choose to share with the outside world can be quite different from what happens behind closed doors. Others may see us as handling things well, while privately we feel out of control, lonely, doubtful, worried, and guilty.
We may also feel that nobody understands our reality or can help us. In fact, sometimes it can seem impossible to explain our life to others. They can’t grasp our day-to-day struggles with seemingly simple tasks and transitions that they do with little effort. Eventually, we may give up and don’t even TRY to discuss it.
So what does desired support look like?
Support can come in multiple ways from a variety of people. Depending on our circumstances, I imagine all of these apply to each us at one time or another. Sometimes they may all apply at the same time!
Support with Daily Living
- Someone to help with your special needs child(ren)
- Someone to help with typically developing siblings
- Someone to help with all sorts of household matters
- Someone to provide time off for YOU, to recharge in a way that best suits you.
- Doctors, therapists, school professionals, and others for your special needs child(ren)
- A good counselor for your spouse/partner and more typical children
- A good counselor for YOU.
- A friend or family member with whom you can comfortably and safely share all the details of your life—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unbelievable.
- This person may or may not fully understand the special needs situation, but they empathize with unconditional acceptance, compassion, and encouragement.
- You feel uplifted after interactions with them, even if you discuss a heavy subject matter that doesn’t have readily available solutions.
Genuine emotional connection is critical
Yet it’s sometimes very hard to find. Everyone yearns for that deep, emotional connection with a few key people. We all wish to feel understood, encouraged, and validated by the people in our lives. It’s human nature.
Because life with a special needs child is hard to explain and difficult for others to fully comprehend—even by those who sincerely WANT to understand and would be willing to help—I believe that parents of special needs children especially yearn for connection and validation.
It can be a lonely place. We begin with a challenging situation, and on top of that feel that we lack adequate support.
But when we feel alienated and unsupported for too long, we might eventually become resentful toward others—those whom we believe “should” be more supportive, and/or those who seem to “have it easier” than we do.
Prolonged anger, bitterness, and resentfulness are understandable, but not helpful for your child, your family, or YOU. The Circles of Support series will offer tips to help eliminate these unhelpful emotions.
Next in the series
We’ve defined a common issue, but where and how do we find true support? That’s really the burning question, and we’ll cover it thoroughly. But first, in the next blog, we explore where most of us tend to look for support and why we sometimes come up empty.
Meanwhile, I invite you to begin the brief activity described below.
Suggested activity for the next two weeks
Dedicate a journal or notebook to use for the Circles of Support series. In it, make two lists (and feel free to elaborate on the items that you list).
Title the first list “Support I Already Have”. Write it all down. Don’t limit yourself to people such as your spouse or parents; think outside the box. Are there little moments of support throughout your week, such as a school bus driver who waits until your child is in the front door before driving on, even though he doesn’t do that for others? As you write, try to feel genuine gratitude for the support you do have, even if it seems not enough. With this focus, you may notice more tiny unexpected moments—keep adding to your list.
The second list: “Support I Would Like to Have” (but don’t currently). This list can incorporate any of the broad categories described above and anything else specific to your situation. Don’t stop to think “no way” or “that will never happen”. Don’t worry about “how” at this point. Simply allow yourself to dream.
And that’s it for today!
Your questions or comments in the box below are welcomed and appreciated. Best wishes to you as we begin this journey together!