Special Needs Moms Need Friends Too
I sat in the waiting room of my son’s developmental therapy office, silently crying big ugly tears. Everyone else there kindly averted their eyes, it wasn’t the first time someone cried in that waiting room. My phone had buzzed only moments before, that text (and subsequent ones) informing me that our friendship was one sided, all I talked about was myself and my issues, and I never thought about anybody else. I was blindsided, and had no idea where any of it was coming from. I thought we were both busy moms on the same page, putting our kids first. I didn’t realize just how isolated I really had become.
While talking to other moms of children with special needs, I discovered that I wasn’t alone. Many of us feel isolated, our lives revolve around our kids, leaving us nothing left for ourselves. Self-care is important, but so are friendships, being connected to other people. But to connect to other people, you have to have something to offer. Our lives are busy, messy, crowded, chaotic, hard… so I (like many others) find it easier to keep to ourselves. Living this way is lonely, but sometimes we feel like it’s the only way to hold it all together. It takes a special kind of person to make us let down our guard. Here are some things that us special needs moms need from the people in our lives:
Grace. Here’s the thing, nothing in our lives is ever easy. Take the life of the average mother of grade-schoolers (homework, after school activities, meal-planning, sports, etc.) and add multiple weekly therapy sessions, doctors’ appointments, medications (that are never ready on time), teacher meetings, and the regularly scheduled melt-downs and sensory overload… and that’s our life. Throw in a couple more kids, cold and flu season, and a minivan that the warranty just expired on and you’ve got the makings for a hectic mess! When she doesn’t call you, when she forgets a play date, or you don’t talk to her for 3 weeks… give her grace. She wants to see you, I promise.
Someone to listen. Mom’s get together and vent, it’s what we do. It doesn’t always work that way for us though. When someone vents about how little Johnny won’t pick up his toys, we want to commiserate. When we say, “I’m really sick of all the therapy appointments, why won’t this kid talk so he can tell me what he wants,” we are just sharing our own struggle. Sometimes this upsets other parents, because they think we are trying to prove that we have it worse. That is not the case, we are simply sharing our own reality. Though our experiences are different, we can appreciate what other moms go through, and we aren’t trying to minimize anyone’s frustrations.
An invitation. Outings and new environments can be stressful for mothers with special needs children. Sometimes it requires the planning of special foods, wheel chairs, and other equipment. For some moms, it just means being able to enjoy the company of others without having to worry about their child having sensory overload, being safe in an unfamiliar environment, or destroying the home they are visiting. When our friends come to us, we are able to enjoy each other’s company, focus on our friend, and be a better companion.
A girl’s night out. One common thing that I hear from other special needs moms is that they don’t go out with friends. We have so much on our to-do list, arranging time for our girlfriends often gets pushed aside. When we do (miraculously) think of it, Mom Guilt strikes – hard. We make excuses like “I have to fill out this paperwork for the physical therapist, schedule a meeting with the teacher and the school social worker, make an appointment for his next MRI…” etc. That doesn’t mean we won’t welcome a night out! Plan one, you’ll probably find a thankful and eager participant!
Understanding. I see new moms post “I didn’t know who my true friends were until I got pregnant” on social media all the time. It’s true, when you have a baby, people seem to slowly slip away. It’s because our priorities change during those first few months and years. For some relationships this only lasts a season, and soon mom gets to reconnect with her old friends (once she finds the balance in parenthood). Other relationships fade off into the distance, never to be rekindled. I never found that balance, and eventually most of my friendships faded away. I think in many ways I’ve forgotten how to be a friend. When people call to see if we are ok, I’m surprised. When someone asks if I need anything, I don’t know how to answer. So, one of the things I need most (and I’m willing to bet others do too), is forgiveness when I’m a bad friend. I don’t mean to become obsessed with our lives, and I would never intentionally hurt someone else.
Parenthood isn’t easy for any parent, but it’s especially difficult when you feel isolated and alone. It’s hard to let your walls down and let people in, yet this is the very thing that many moms need. We need to return to a way of life where our relationships aren’t virtual, and instead of “liking” each other’s posts, we reach out and connect with one another. Don’t be afraid to include the mom of the kid with special needs in your plans, she makes enough excuses for herself. Teach your children to be friends with those who are different (physically or otherwise), she will be thankful. Finally, know that moms of kids with special needs are fighters, we are strong, we can endure, and we will be the most loyal friend you will ever have… with just a little bit of effort.
About The Author
Katie is a California native that has relocated to North Carolina by way of the military. An Army Veteran, she is a current military spouse and mother to three incredible little kids, and one naughty puppy. Her middle child has special needs and drives her passion for child advocacy. Katie currently works from home selling women and children's apparel, and has a hobby blog called Dandelion Happy. Katie's background spans from gemology, literature, middle eastern studies, to early childhood education (largely due to her inability to make a decision and her interest in everything). Her proudest accomplishment to date is housebreaking the naughty puppy.