This is day 22 of 31 Days of Supporting the Special Needs Family. To view the story behind this series and the series contents, please visit the landing page. Today, Jennifer Janes is back again, discussing how to tear down walls and bridge the gap.
Special needs parenting is lonely. Parents of kids with special needs are torn about how to answer the simple question “How are you?” because the canned response isn’t true but the truth would drive people away with its harsh honesty. Parents of kids with special needs seem to congregate together—when they can find one another and circumstances permit. I wondered for the longest time where the non-special needs community was in all of this. Why do special needs families feel so isolated and abandoned? I did a survey on my own site (when I was gathering information for a book that has yet to be written), and the answers helped me realize that bridging the gap between the special needs community and the community at large is a more complicated issue than I ever dreamed.
Some of the responses I got to the questions I asked about why “typical” families don’t come alongside special needs families to offer help, encouragement, and support surprised me. Some didn’t. I wasn’t shocked when people said that they really weren’t sure what to say or what they could do to help. Their requests for ways they could help and things they should or shouldn’t say were expected.
What really surprised me were the people who showed me that we’re all more alike than different. There were moms who said they were overwhelmed too. Those who were struggling to keep up with laundry and dishes, meal preparation, and their kids’ incessant questions and demands. There were moms of small children who also felt isolated and lonely, unable to get out of the house to find some interaction with other moms who understood what they were going through. There were grandparents who were tired or in poor health, unable to do everything they did when they were younger, despite wanting to help their children who were struggling with their grandchildren with special needs.
I learned that to bridge the gap between the community at large and families of children with special needs, I was going to have to get the focus off myself and my needs, the needs of those moms closest to me who are struggling, and look beyond my little circle to see the very real needs and struggles of all the families in my community. Those of us who are more mobile need to reach out to offer support and encouragement for those families who can’t get out of the house, whether they are dealing with special needs or not. It means if we’re the ones stuck at home, then we need to reach out in ways that we can to others who are hurting. On a bad day, an email, text, or phone call to check in with someone and see how their day is going means so much. I’ve been on the receiving end of “I was thinking about you. How are you doing?” When you know the person on the other end cares, it can turn your whole day around. And if I’m the one having the bad day, reaching out to someone else and taking the focus off myself lifts my spirits too.
Bridging the gap is going to take work on both sides. We have to acknowledge that this parenting thing is hard sometimes, whether you have a child with special needs or not. We need to be willing to look beyond ourselves, reach out to those who are struggling, accept friendship and help when it’s offered, and do everything in our power to bridge the gap so that no parent feels alone on this journey.
Jennifer Janes lives in Arkansas with her husband, two daughters, a few cats, and a couple of gerbils. She spends her days homeschooling her kids, writing in blue ink, writing, reading, crocheting, and enjoying time with friends and family. She shares about her faith, family, and parenting and homeschooling a child with special needs at jenniferajanes.com.