This is the second in a 7-blog series about support for parents and caregivers of special needs children. It can also apply to other situations. Because the best person to find solutions to your concerns is you, prompts and exercises are provided to gently lead you in your best direction. Click to go to the first blog in the series.
Have you ever noticed how certain thoughts, ideas, and concepts run through our culture and creep into consciousness almost by osmosis? Concepts are passed down through generations and informed by collective history, so that each of us is well indoctrinated by early childhood. By the time we are adults able to form opinions of our own, we may or may not go back and question these concepts.
Example: A white picket fence represents the good life
To many a white picket fence is an idealized symbol of home, family, and stability. When we imagine a white picket fence, we might imagine a grassy lawn and a two-story colonial home behind it—just one of many in a friendly, tree-lined neighborhood. The white picket fence implies a happy family leading a peaceful life.
Why is this so? It’s a product of our shared cultural heritage and societal norms, the complex inner workings of which I’ll leave to sociologists and historians. But suffice it to say, we all are conditioned about a great many things that inform our thoughts, opinions, and perceptions. This is not a bad thing—it just is.
Switching gears now
When you think about the people you feel should most support your special needs parenting or caregiving journey, who jumps to mind? I imagine that if we asked 10,000 people that same question, we’d get roughly 10,000 similar responses. Primary answers would include my husband, my wife, my parents, my best friend.
This is also due to the values and ideas about support that are ingrained into our collective consciousness. And like our associations with a white picket fence, we may never stop to think about it. For some people, these associations are indeed valid, so there is never a need to question them.
The image below identifies the people that most of us were raised to expect support from during challenging times. The chart represents broad and deep societal values. It represents an ideal.
The operative word is “ideal”
Ideals are what we yearn for, and tend to strive toward. But what happens in a special needs parenting situation, or any other ongoing, demanding situation, when our personal reality doesn’t match our ingrained beliefs?
What happens when those in your inner circle—your spouse or partner, parents, siblings, and close friends—don’t provide the support that you need? What of single parents, people who moved hundreds of miles away from family, or those who don’t easily make intimate friends? Lack of support can be painful.
Judging others isn’t helpful
It’s never wise to judge anyone for being unable to lend support—or enough support. It’s important to remember that there are an infinite number of reasons, some of which you are not aware, why a person may be unable to be involved. And again—it just is.
Know that a person’s inability to support you, or support you enough, is perfectly okay. If that last sentence sounds untrue, or maybe even makes you angry, that’s okay too. For now, just notice your reaction to it and allow yourself to be curious.
When the key people in our inherited, idealized belief system cannot support you, or support you enough, where does that leave you?! You are dealing with ongoing challenges, doing the best you can. You’re getting by for the moment but may feel you can’t keep going like this indefinitely. You do need support; there’s no way around it. So now what?
In the next blog, we explore an alternate belief system that might be more appropriate and helpful to you. Meanwhile, I encourage you to engage in the exercise below.
1) In the journal you began last time, continue recording the support that you have noticed, even tiny instances. Feel grateful for it; your gratitude will make space for even more support to come into your life.
2) Continue to think about what you desire in terms of support and add to that list as well. Again, don’t get caught up in the details of “how”, but approach it from a standpoint of optimistic expectations. Sincerely believe that some of what you desire will come to fruition, yet at the same time stay open to support appearing in other ways that you can’t even imagine.
3) Then, using the image of the , write down the names of key people in your life within their appropriate circle.
4) If you notice a strong emotional reaction to one or more of the key people you name, I invite you to explore that further. Note what you are feeling and then write about it. You may feel immense warmth and gratitude toward someone—wonderful; describe it. Perhaps you feel anger or resentment toward someone. Jot down those feelings and what you wish the person would do differently.
5) Consider the possibility of working to forgive anyone towards whom you feel anger or resentment, even if it seems difficult. Especially if it seems difficult! Remember that forgiveness does not condone the other person’s actions. Instead, it is an act of letting go that will help to free you as we continue this series.
That’s it for now! Happy journaling!