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Ways to Support Your Friend Whose Child Has Special Needs

by McKenna on August 10, 2009
category: Children’s Health,Down syndrome,Inspiration,Special needs

1124722_girls_talking_women_issues I began motherhood as a parent of a child with special needs.  I really don’t know what parenting is like without having children with medical concerns and special needs.  What I do know is that I view motherhood as one of the most beautiful gifts I have received.  My children are beautiful creations and through them God has placed some amazing people in my life.  My dearest, closest friends are friends I have made or become closer to after becoming a mother.  I often have struggled with feeling as though I have been loved much more than I am capable of reciprocating because these people in my life can love like no one else I’ve ever met. 

I am sure it can be intimidating if one of your friends or someone you know has a child with special needs.  You may not know how to approach them or may feel awkward around them or their child.  When that mom talks about frustrations that are bigger than anything you’ve dealt with as a mom, you may not know how to respond to them.  As the parent of children with special needs, I’d love to share with you some ways to support, encourage, and deepen your friendships with moms of children with different needs than your children. 

Allow the friendship to be two-sided

  • It is hard for me when a gal pal makes the entire friendship about my needs and doesn’t allow me to encourage and support them.  My closest friends are friends who talk to me about the things happening in their lives without fearing that their drama is less important than mine.  Don’t hold back discussing your life with your friend because you are afraid that they have more important issues than yours to talk or think about!  Allow them to comfort and encourage you!

Ask questions

  • If you do not understand what their child’s needs are or want to know about something, do not be afraid to ask.  Most parents would rather you ask questions than make an assumption.  For example, when my daughter had feeding issues at birth requiring a feeding tube that most people had never seen, it was relieving to me when someone would ask me what the tube was.  I felt like most people were scared of the odd tube coming out of my newborn baby’s nose and it felt good when people would approach me and ask what it was or why she had a feeding tube.  
  • Be slightly careful with advice or suggestions though.  Even if you have experience with an issue the mom is dealing with, don’t be too forceful with your input or opinion about the situation.  They likely have a bunch of specialists, therapists, and mother-in-laws helping them with the issue and probably forcing their own suggestions on their shoulders.  Just like with all your mom friends, they are not going to share the same parenting philosophy as you on every issue.  And the definition of their issue may be different than in the world off the typical developing child.  For example, with a child with medical or developmental issues, they may not be able to use the “he’ll eat when he’s hungry” approach with their picky eater.  However, don’t allow yourself to cross over from being sensitive with advice to being afraid to talk about their child’s struggles.  It’s ok to suggest anything, just without becoming forceful or overly opinionated. 

Pay attention to what is said

  • Write down important days coming up  in your friends’ life.  If they have a special education meeting with their school, remember the day so you can follow up with them about how it went.  If they mention a week full of doctor’s appointments, ask if their other children can come over to play while they’re at the appointments.  It always feels good when somebody remembers what you tell them.  

Allow them to be negative and vent

  • It is hard to maintain a positive attitude about the struggles involved in raising a child with special needs.  When your friend vents, pouts, cries, or is ultra negative about a situation, give them your ear and shoulder.  Try not to assume that they are overall unhappy about their lives though because they have these bouts of negativity.  I get frustrated whenever I see my OB/GYN doctor because he saw me at my very worst when my first child was born with Down syndrome and my second child was born with a heart defect.  I always feel as though he doesn’t believe me when I tell him that life really is going great because he will always see me as the mother grieving for the children she expected to have, but didn’t.  I wouldn’t trade my kids for the world and even though I pout and become very negative about certain health issues they face, it is freeing to know that I have a few ears and a few shoulders who can handle that crying and even whining knowing how much I love my children.  Those people have even told me I’m very positive about the situations I’ve faced, which shocks me because they get to see the nasty side of me during hard and scary times. 

Remember that they’re moms just like you

  • Talk about the things you talk to other moms about.  Do not feel intimidated because their parenting experience is a little different than yours.  Invite them to playdates.  If they’ve mentioned that their child has sensory issues and does not like over-stimulating environments, plan a quiet playdate at your house.  Ask them mom advice.  Don’t assume that they are too tired for a phone call or a moms night out.  In fact, plan a time for you to get together sans kids! 

All of these suggestions have come from being on the very wonderful receiving end.  I hope that you will reach out to a mom you know who has children with different needs than your children!

6 Responses to Ways to Support Your Friend Whose Child Has Special Needs

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Stephanie Guinn
    August 11, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

    Great article McKenna! This is good advice for any friendship. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Amy
    August 11, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

    We are very good friends with a family with a special needs child. The mom and I have never had any problem communicating, sharing, supporting. And our kids have always played very well with each other.

    But my son is now in school, is excelling academically, is very active, constantly needs to be challenged or in motion. Their daughter, on the other hand, has been held back from school, has her physical and verbal challenges, can easily be over-stimulated, and can’t seem to keep up with Ben any more. So they’re having a hard time finding things to do together.

    Any tips for helping kids deal? I would love for us to stay friends and not drift apart due to these changes…

  • Comment by McKenna
    August 12, 2009 @ 8:21 am

    @Amy, I have watched as kids my daughter’s age (and even younger) have passed her up developmentally and their interaction has changed because Darah can’t do, or isn’t interested in, all the things the other kids can do. However, my friends have still included her in birthday parties and play dates. I just have to modify the activity so it’s appropriate for my daughter and sometimes know when an environment isn’t feasible and take a rain check on the activity or plan one for next time that would work easier. I think the important thing is getting good quality time with your mom friend.

  • Comment by Christy
    August 12, 2009 @ 9:51 am

    Awesome advice about asking your friend about their child’s health issues. Our son has diabetes (type 1) and there are so many misconceptions about it that it can be maddening when my friends “assume” things about how I care for him. The friends I hold dearest are the ones who have made it a point to understand and love on my child!!!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Jenell Allen
    August 15, 2009 @ 10:00 am

    I enjoyed your article McKenna. I totally agree. Even though I have a special needs child, I sometimes hae felt a little confused with communicating with people that have children with more severe needs. This is good info.

  • Gravatar August 17, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

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