I just came home from two days of special needs parent training. It was the kind of weekend that makes my life seem almost glamorous—free hotel with a glorious night of uninterrupted sleep, food flowing all day with no dishwasher to load afterward, a cozy bar with a fireplace…oh, yeah, and the chance to learn a great deal about becoming a more effective parent of a child with special needs. Let’s not forget about that. What more could an overwhelmed, exhausted mom ask for? I get to do this three times in three months as part of this training, and I feel like the luckiest gal in the world.
But besides the cookie breaks and the swimming pool, the greatest unexpected bonus has been getting to spend some time with folks who have loved ones with special needs. Even though our kids and siblings are different ages, have different diagnoses and symptoms, different challenges and different prognoses, it feels so strange to be among so many people who “get” me, my family and my life so well.
I’m really unused to the feeling of being so seen and understood. “I totally know what you’re talking about,” was heard more than once, along with “I can really relate to what you’re talking about.” Even things like, “You’re being too hard on yourself,” or “Stop feeling sorry for yourself, you can do this,” is easier to hear when spoken by someone who is in the trenches with you.
In one exercise, we practiced the critical special needs parenting skill of asking for things by asking each other to do crazy random stuff in order to complete a Bingo-style game. I told one dad my pin number; he showed me the color of his underwear. I asked a woman for her real age and weight, and without batting an eyelash she laid it out there for me. When the game was over we were asked what it felt like to ask each other for help; one person said that they had no doubt that anything they asked for from anyone in this group would be given, and I realized I felt that way, too. For someone who spends most days in a scarcity mindset, I found it incredibly nurturing.
I hope I’m not giving the impression that my friends without special needs kids are not generous or supportive – I have some amazing sympathetic listeners and willing helpers in my life. They are my cheerleaders and my problem solvers. They are my shoulders to cry on and my emergency babysitters and they start prayer chains that create miracles. But to be allow myself to be honest without worrying about freaking someone out, without worrying about coming across as neurotic or depressing or pitiful (or at least not worrying that that stuff would scare them off) – that just feels good in a different way. And knowing that I might be letting another person do that too – well that didn’t feel too bad, either.