Parenting a special child is not easy. Such parents experience a variety of stressors and stress reactions related to their child’s disability. These include shock, denial, pain, disappointment, anger, fear, embarrassment, guilt and grief, etc. In addition to the stress of the disability itself, financial strain due to medical bills or quality care, lack of control, attitude, isolation, even divorce all merge to bombard the family of a special child. Yes, in a marriage where marital adjustment is poor, the stress of dealing with a child’s disability can cause the family system to collapse.
Now the question arises how does a parent survive the devastation of a handicap in their child? How can they help their child, their other children, themselves?
Here are some suggestions which can help to manage parenting stress around raising a special child.
Acceptance of your child’s permanent condition is the first step to deal with the problem. It is the most painful phase of the coping process. When we accept that we have no control over a problem, we free our minds to identify the realistic ways we can improve the situation. Look for appropriate programme available for the child, get yourself connected with rehabilitation professionals who can help you, have a plan of action and start working on it.
Remember that you are not alone. Parents with special children can benefit from finding a support network that includes other parents of children with similar challenges. Set reasonable goals for the child and yourself. Parents, especially mothers are constantly bombarded by the latest “best” way to raise their children. The more intense your style of parenting, it seems, the greater your own risk of stress.
The strategies you use to raise your child should be the ones that work best for your family and lifestyle. What works for one family may not work for another. Do not feel guilty if you are not able to try or do every solution that is suggested to you.
You need to understand that living a long and healthy life lets a parent help the child for as long as possible. Often parents leave little time to take care of their own physical needs. If you take care of your own relaxation needs first, you will have more energy to cope with child’s requirements.
Emotional support. It is very important to share your feelings with spouse, family and friends as you surely need some emotional support. Learn that it is okay to feel what you are feeling.
Self-pity. The experience of pity from others, or pity for your child will not help. People who can empathise with you can provide much needed support. Spending time with those who are positive about your situation can also help keep your spirits up.
Learn to laugh. Making time for humour is important at home and at work. Humour can also help diffuse stress in difficult situations.
Often alcohol and drugs make stress symptoms worse. Try healthier alternatives to de-stress such as exercise or a hobby.
Inappropriate reactions (staring, name-calling) from others are due to a lack of understanding and the fear of the unknown. You are the one who decides how this is going to affect you. Is it really that important to get upset about? To get your child upset about it? Ignoring these types of reactions is best since you have more important things on your mind.
Encouraging independence In a special child this is one of the most important things a parent can do. The more capable a child is of doing things for himself, the more self-esteem and confidence that child may feel. This will also help lift some of the burden off of the caregiver.
Yes, your child’s development may be different from that of others, but this does not make your child less valuable, less human or less important. Your child deserves the chance of a good life just like every other child. Love and enjoy your child as much as you can. The child comes first; the disability comes second. You are human and a parent, you can only do the best you can. Just live one day at a time and try to look forward to the future with hope.
The article was published in The Hindu on May 14th