“I tried to connect with another parent raising a child with special needs, but she compared her child to mine. She said I can’t understand what she goes through. My situation isn’t as challenging as hers because my child ‘just has …’.”
Q&A time after a presentation is always interesting, but this recent statement… Wow! I spoke at a Mother’s retreat and this mom’s comment caught me by surprise in some ways, but also resonated in others.
I’ve led support groups for years and find parents connect on a variety of levels. Though their journeys and diagnoses of special needs may be very different, parents have a variety of common experiences: grief and guilt, anxiety about the future, coping with school plans, and more. As parents bond and connect, they can see past the differences in diagnoses to their shared challenges in parenting. Time and again I’ve heard parents marvel at how connected they feel despite the fact that the diagnosis within their families are so varied.
Yet I have also heard comments like the one the mom shared at the retreat. My son is on the autism spectrum and when he was entering high school another parent of a child with autism told me that I didn’t know what it was like for her because my son was older then and didn’t have the same expression of autism as hers. True, on some levels. Though my son was not born “older,” one can never know the exact experience of another person. There is a saying, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.” It is a spectrum with a variety of expressions as unique and individual as fingerprints. But it doesn’t mean that the differences in the expression of that spectrum renders parents incapable of hearing each other’s stories and helping each other in the midst of hard times. If we limit ourselves to only connecting with parents on exactly the same path as our own, it is going to be a very small circle of understanding and support.
It is possible to care and connect even if our life circumstances are different. We do that all of the time. Recently we’ve experienced torrential rain in my hometown. I’ve received phone calls, text messages, and social media connections from across the country from friends checking in to see if my family is okay. I suppose I could respond by saying, “If you’ve not had multiple inches of rain in a short period of time day after day you can be no help to me.” The truth is that you don’t have to experience a flood of epic proportion in your home town to be able to understand that it is frightening, creating rising anxiety to match the rising waters.
Genuine empathy and compassion are not necessarily born of having lived the exact circumstance, rather they are born of caring and friendship. One of the healthiest things parents can do for themselves is to connect with others in mutually supportive relationships. In the book of Ecclesiastes, the author writes poignantly of the importance of relationships.
And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12 NRSV
Sure, we can stand against adversity and challenges on our own, but it is so much easier to share the journey. Community and support are a gift, even when they come from unexpected places.
Holy God, bind us together, Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken. Bind us together, Lord, bind us together with love. Amen
Rev Doc Lorna
Prayer by Bob Gillman
Image “Strand” by TCJ2020 from FreeDigitalPhotos.net