By: Michael Monheit, Esq
For many mothers of a special needs child, tending their own personal friendships hovers somewhere at the bottom of the “to do” list, falling underneath occupational therapy for their child, doctors visits, and the simple tasks of everyday living. At the same time, as a sometimes tired and overwhelmed mother, your need for adult support and comfort is higher than most.
It can be difficult making friends if you are the primary caretaker for your special needs child, but the need for a shoulder to cry on, or a helping hand when yours just can’t lift anymore, is deep.
Here are some things you can do to make friends and cultivate adult relationships.
Take Advantage Of Parent Resources At Your Child’s Psychiatrist Or Therapist
Many therapists offices and psychiatrists may provide parent resources, such as a counselor for parents to talk to, or a support group made up of parents with special needs kids, similar to a grief support or group therapy model. Ask your child’s provider if they offer a parent counselor or know of a parent support group. These aides put you in contact with others in similar situations, that are local in your area.
Your insurance company may be able to answer questions about these resources, as well. Sometimes things such as family therapy are covered; this varies widely, so call the member services line of your insurance to check. If your doctors or insurance company does not have a link to these services, perhaps you could set one of your own, or ask what options there can be to reach out to other parents.
Let Social Media Be Your Friend
It can be challenging as a parent of a special needs child to scroll through endless “highlight reels” of other families on Facebook or Instagram. In the fall, your feed is littered with back-to-school photos, and in the spring graduation pictures abound. It is hard to see these and not feel envious when you’re struggling to enroll your special needs child in school at all. Recently, Facebook has created a private, invitation-only, way to set up communities of like-minded people.
A private Facebook group of other parents of special needs children is an easy way to connect and stay in touch with others in similar situations. Consider printing up small business cards with a link to your group, and giving them to other mothers in the doctor’s waiting room. You may be able to ask your health care providers to give these out, as well.
Having an online circle of friends gives you flexibility for social interaction, compared to a standing face-to-face outing or meet-up. If it’s a particularly bad day, you may have to cancel going out, but you can still keep in touch and share videos and pictures and small victories with your new friends.
Determine The Level Of Friendship You Need
This sounds weird, right? Pick either friend level A, B, or C? Your best bet for finding the support and adult relationships you need is to look at your life, your child’s needs, and your schedule, and see what you can accommodate, and what level of interaction you need. Do you need a break to pamper yourself, or just have an adult conversation? Or are you just too busy or frazzled to get a caregiver & put yourself together to go out?
Depending on what your own needs are, you could consider setting up a monthly coffee date, and a monthly sitter for your child. Online communities, or relay chats, might work better if you have to suddenly stop and help your child, or if you just need understanding ears to listen if you need to vent. Once you know what you are looking for, you can start to narrow down what type of friend will provide it.
Sometimes you may have to make the first move. If you know of someone who has a special needs child too, take the time to send a quick text or social media message saying “Hi, thinking of you and hope you have a good day today”. Reach out, and reach out again. You know how their days can get away from them, and you know that they treasure supportive words.
Friendship can be difficult to find for mothers of children with special needs, and it can feel very isolating. However, there are resources available to every mom, and all they have to do is take the first step.
We want to know where you have found your friends. Comment below.
Michael Monheit, Esq is one of the founding lawyers of Monheit Law, P.C. where they are dedicated to the protection of individual rights. The firm specializes in birth injury, brain damage, brachial plexus injuries, negligence and malpractice lawsuits.