Talking with Antonia Chitty in last week’s Podcast made me start to think about the impact having a child with additional needs has on our relationships. As she said many parents feel they don’t have anyone or anywhere to go to discuss the pressures put upon their relationships.
If you’re lucky you have support around you, but often people don’t understand the pressures. I guess that’s why we gravitate to other parents who face similar issues. Over the years I’ve made some good friends, and these friendships have started because they have understood what I’m going through and vice versa. It’s not always easy watching friends enjoy their children in ways you will never be able to.
I still remember vividly when my daughter was born and she was taken away suddenly to the special care baby unit. For a while we didn’t know whether she would live. But she’s a fighter and still is. If you’ve had the same experience I don’t need to remind you how it felt. If your child’s diagnosis was later, then you would still have had a similar experience. Coming to terms with a diagnosis can cause the same emotional stages as dealing with grief – loss, depression, anger, bewilderment and, hopefully, acceptance.
Then, in years to come, there may be empty nest syndrome for us to NOT look forward to. That is where most parents can look forward to (or not) their children becoming more independent and moving out to work or university. For many of us who have children with additional needs, this won’t happen, or at least not in the same way and certainly not as quickly. We fully intend out daughter to be independent of us, but she will be at least 25 by then, and we’ll be keeping an eye on her from afar.
Antonia reminded me we cope in different ways under stress. Some might be feeling angry about something but their partner might not appear to be as concerned. Perhaps we don’t understand why they don’t feel as angry as we do, but the reality maybe we are both at different emotional stages of coping. When everything feels like it’s becoming too much, Antonia advises getting help. Acknowledge that our situation is taking its toll. Relationships do break down, and there is a higher occurrence of this with kinds of pressures we face. But there are strategies for coping that can be learnt.
We are under different pressures at different times of our children’s life. We need to find friends who understand the stage we are at. We mustn’t forget our partner is more than just a fellow parent and that, hopefully one day, it will just be us and them again. It’s also important to remember that we are not alone, and that we all worry about our children’s future whether they have additional needs or not: that’s called being a parent!
For a better description of the difficulties and of the pressures upon our relationships, listen to my discussion with Antonia Chitty. She has a wealth of experience talking to parents just like us. If you’re not sure about listening to a podcast this article offers a great introduction. Antonia’s words of wisdom are well worth the effort and I thank her for reminding me I’m doing ok.