I'm convinced that one of the biggest forms of self-care is having friends in our lives who "get" us. And unfortunately, this is one of the top issues that fellow Warrior Moms discuss - the need to have friends in their lives that "get" them and their experience.
I reached out to some Warrior Moms and asked them, "What do you need from your friends to help
you as you're dealing with life as a special needs
Here are the top responses they gave me:
1) One phrase loudly proclaimed by multiple Warrior moms was, NO JUDGEMENT. Please be a supportive listener and open to sharing stories. And if you don’t have children with special needs or complex medical conditions, please try to understand the challenges of parenting a child with special needs. We love our children and what may look like helicopter parenting is often necessary. Many times our child is chronologically older than their developmental age. For some families, the baby years, changing diapers, being on as a constant care giver will NEVER end. Let that sink in….Do you remember, when you were utterly exhausted and you couldn’t wait for the day your child was potty trained? Some parents will NEVER know this experience. A little empathy for your friend and their reality will go a long way in your relationship.
2) I’m looking for friends that have similar values. I want to be friends with people who put their kids first and are willing to research and advocate and be fully present with their children. I’m giving my all to help my child and I want to be friends with like-minded people. They say iron sharpens iron, and I definitely want to be friends with people I can bounce ideas off. Many Warrior Moms remember the exact second they received a diagnosis – that moment when life changed. And for many of us Warrior Moms, because life is not exactly what we planned for, we’ve adapted, we’ve changed and we’ve grown. We want people who are able to grow and walk alongside us.
3) I’m looking for authentic, REAL people. I’m not about being fake. When you’re in the trenches, things can be tough and emotions can be pretty raw. People who are into “things” aren’t people that I want to be around or have time for. People who think the world is over because their child got a B+? Seriously?!! These aren’t my people. My kind of people can hang and are chill, especially during moments when my child is having an epic melt-down. Instead of judging and turning their nose up, my kind of friend shows up and either politely ignores the outburst or asks, “Is there anything I can do to help?” My kind of friend celebrates when my fourteen-year-old learns how to tie their shoes, or says “I Love You” for the first time.
4) Please do a little research and educate yourself regarding my child and their special needs. Don't be afraid to ask me questions and know that if I don't want to answer, I will let you know. Meanwhile, whether I'm new or have been on this road for a while, know that I'm constantly researching and finding out as much information as I can for my child. Trust me when I tell you I'm an expert when it comes to my kid. I welcome your input, but PLEASE, don't try to tell me what I should or should not do for my child. Life can be exhausting and while I may welcome your suggestions, please remember I'm still their parent and I'm constantly researching. Or as another mom stated, "Just because you've read ONE article about autism, does not mean you are an expert on MY child." Trust me, it’s not that easy.
5) I need my friends to know that I still care about you and I miss you. Several moms extrapolated further to say, "I'm tired and exhausted and not always able to be as available as I'd like. I need people in my life to understand that my child and their needs come first. "I would love to go out to dinner or to a movie, but unfortunately special needs or medical conditions happen and sometimes my plans have to change." I want my friends to keep inviting me and know that if I can make it, I will be there. And a constant refrain was "Please don't give up on me, know that I love and value our friendship. Please be flexible and understand that my child's health and ability to function around multiple people is constantly in flux.”
6) Ask questions if you don’t understand my child or therapies we are completing. There's a really good chance that my child has allergies or food sensitivities. Please accept this and ask questions if you don't understand. Don't assume I'm being "one of those moms" - some kids have anaphylactic reactions to specific foods, others have allergic reactions that can lead to behavioral issues or not feeling well.
7) I’m not a saint. Another constant refrain from parents is, “I’m not a saint. I’m a mom or I’m a dad that loves my child and I’m doing everything I possibly can to give my child their best life possible.” Many parents, mentioned their desire to have their family and friends understand the challenges of parenting children with special needs. Please understand, we love our child, and parenting a child with special needs is not easy or for the faint of heart. We love our child, and we will do everything possible to help them. So please, don’t say, “I could never do what you’re doing.” Insert eye roll. If your child is sick and needs you, trust me, you are able and will do whatever you need to help your child.
8) Sometimes I just need someone to listen to me. Parenting a child with special needs can be extremely difficult and frustrating. There are times a parent JUST needs someone to listen, someone they can safely vent to. And trust me, as soon as we're past this moment I will be hard at it doing research and trying to figure out the next, best therapy or treatment for my child.
Finally, friend, remind yourself, this is NOT about you. This is about your friend that is often struggling as a special needs parent. It’s perfectly fine to go to your friend, and ask how you can help. Only here is my advice, don’t say, “Just let me know what you need.”
Special needs parenting can be so overwhelming that you actually don’t know what you need. And many special needs parents are so used to doing EVERYTHING themselves that they don't think to ask for help. Instead of an empty promise, think of specific things you can do for your friend. If you're a special needs parent, please think of things you need. The next time someone asks if you need help, answer yes and tell them how they can help you. Part-two of "Having a Friend that Gets You" will review some ways you can show up and be present for your friend.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the eight top things that special needs parents want their friends and potential friends to know. Please let me know if you have some additional items that you believe should be included in the list.
One last topic that came up is having a church community that supports and makes it possible for families to attend church and also helps with respite. One Warrior Mom shared about the wonderful church community her family has experienced since her grandchildren (diagnosed with ASD) were small. If you've been successful in finding a church community that is supportive and encouraging - please give them a shout-out!
Stay tuned for Part- Two - Having a Friend that Gets You." for practical ideas on how you can support your friend that has a child with special needs or complex medical conditions.
One of my BIG self-care items this year was to publish my book, something that has been a buck-list item since I was a little girl. And It's happening! My novel, "UnMasked" will be released on June 13, 2023 and is available for pre-order on Amazon at: https://a.co/d/fCkRf8z
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