Our second child was born with severe special needs (he is unable to walk or talk) after I unknowingly caught a virus (Cytomegalovirus) while I was pregnant. When he was first born, my depression was so great that I pulled away from most of my friends. I couldn't listen to their complaints when I was dealing with such intense sadness, fear, and anxiety, nor could I easily keep them posted on the constant barrage of information we were trying to take in and understand.
And even though I have a typically developing, smart and sassy older daughter and now a crazy and quirky younger son, it's still hard to hear parents complain about the mundane. Comments like, "Let's go out and celebrate when our kids are all out of nappies!" make me see red, or ones like "My daughter has physical therapy once a week and it's so impossible to get her there!" make me roll my eyes when I compare the 11 hours of therapy my son has, plus recurring doctor appointments. But, after eight years of juggling both worlds (and tons of talk therapy), I've found a good balance of being honest about my struggles while still relating to friends. Here's how.
- I recognise that most people mean well.
Even though many of the comments feel insensitive, I know they aren't intended to hurt. We are all human and trying to navigate a crazy and complicated world to the best of our abilities. Most people aren't aware of the day to day we've learned to manage, and they are just trying to figure out how to get themselves through today. Honestly, I've been told that we always seem to have it together, so people don't understand how hard it can be at times. I'll take it.
- I've learned to nicely speak up.
Instead of seething and walking away when people complain, I nicely add to the conversation. Or I change the subject. Or I commiserate with how frustrating it is to add physical therapy appointments to the calendar when there is so much else going on. I don't need to get into a pissing match with someone about how many appointments our children have and how difficult it is. There are tons of other things we can talk about that still allow me to enjoy our friendship.
- I save the more complicated concerns or vents for my husband or special-needs-parent friends.
The friends that I had before my son was born don't understand, nor do the friends I met when I had my typically developing children, but I met an arsenal of amazing friends when my middle son was born. Our kids are completely different, but we all have one thing in common: we understand the heavy load and frustration that comes along with a special needs child — and how lonely that can feel.
- I recognise that not everyone has gone through something so intense or traumatic.
And that's ok. If they are my friend, it's because there is something about them that I like, and we don't need to be able to connect on every level. I wasn't the best friend I could have been when my friends had babies before I did. And I recognise that now. We all face challenges in different ways and at different times. Maybe someday they will go through something traumatic, and I'll be able to support them with knowledge I've gained from my own experience.