By a father of three exceptional children
I have been a special needs parent for over a decade and something that I learned along the way is that despite my very best efforts, at the end of the day, I’m only human. I get frustrated, overwhelmed, and on occasion say and do the wrong thing.
One of the things that happens quite often to special needs parents is that the demand on us simply exceeds the resources we have available, be it emotional, physical, or financial. This demand is constant in many cases, and the strain over time becomes more and more difficult to carry. The stress can really take its toll.
I feel that as special needs parents, we often don’t give ourselves enough credit or cut ourselves enough slack. Speaking for myself only, I have a tendency to be overly critical of myself, especially when I feel I’m failing at something, which is honestly, quite often. However, in reality, I’m failing to remember that I’m doing or trying to do things every day that most people simply couldn’t handle. We tend to become so accustomed to everything that we often focus more on our perceived losses or defeats than we do on our successes and victories.
One of the things that I have always encouraged people to do is share their feelings. Venting, or expressing what we are going through, is something that is extremely important in special needs parenting. Again, speaking only for myself, I’m under constant and unforgiving pressure. These pressures can range from health or behavioral issues to simply trying to make ends meet. Some of this pressure I put on myself, but most of it is inherent to special needs parenting in general.
There are times that my kids drive me crazy and I swear that my head is going to explode. For a long time this was like a double-edged sword. I would be so incredibly stressed out, overwhelmed, and frustrated. On top of that, I would feel an extreme sense of guilt for being stressed out, overwhelmed, and frustrated. The kids had no control over most of their behaviors, but I had this idea that, as their father, I was supposed to have this never-ending supply of patience. Instead I was always “a day late and a dollar short.”
There were times that I was so far gone that I would go through a drive-thru to pick up dinner and when asked, “Can I take your order?”, I would answer, “I’ll take some sanity with a side order of patience and some peace and quiet for desert…oh…and…supersize that.” Apparently, this kind of stuff is not on the menu…anywhere! Trust me, I’ve tried everywhere. You can ask my wife. She was always mortified when I would place my order.
Then one day, it hit me. I’m not sure how or why this happened, but I realized that I didn’t have to feel guilty for being frustrated, overwhelmed, and stressed out by my kids or their behavior. I guess I had felt like if I admitted that I was frustrated or overwhelmed by the challenges associated with raising three boys with special needs, that it somehow reflected poorly on them, or that I loved them less. I didn’t want anyone to think that about my kids because, while challenging, they are totally awesome, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.
Admitting frustration with those challenges, or even with any or all of my kids, doesn’t mean they are bad and it certainly doesn’t mean that I somehow love them any less. What admitting this did mean however, was that I was human. I learned that not only was it normal to feel these things, but it was also healthy. This was such a powerful realization for me, and it changed my perspective considerably. I discovered that acknowledging these feelings, and even embracing them, provided a much-needed sense of relief. The relief really kicked in when I became comfortable enough with these feelings to not only admit them to myself, but share them publicly as well. While that may not appeal to everyone, and understandably so, it helped me to keep myself centered.
I think that this is something particularly difficult for fathers. Society tells us that we are supposed to be almost emotionless and not feel these things and if as a man, you actually do have these feelings, God forbid you ever admit it.
Look, we are human beings living in very difficult situations. These situations very often require sacrifice to the nth degree. Feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or even resentful is completely normal, at least in my opinion. I also think that admitting these things is not a sign of weakness or even bad parenting. In fact, I would argue that it shows great courage and a deep unconditional love for our kids. Honestly, no one likes admitting things like this, but in doing so we get a better understanding of our limitations and ourselves.
As far as I’m concerned, this helps to make me a better parent, and speaking for myself, I need all the help I can get.
Article courtesy of Motivated magazine. Used with permission. Photo by David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.