This article covers the second stage of adaptation, Searching. Be sure to read the articles on this site covering the other three stages:
Searching is a time of acting, of moving forward from your reactive stage of Surviving. It is the awakening of a sense of control over your emotions and your life, and a time for seeking understanding about your child, your family, and yourself.
Searching is divided into two types: Outer Searching for answers about your child's problems, and Inner Searching for understanding what the problems mean in your life.
Searching issues may dominate your life for a while; some may never go away. You will find yourself gaining competence and self-confidence in your parenting role, and a new sensitivity as you find your life values and priorities beginning to shift.
Searching is a time of active growth and expansion and of gaining a new kind of strength as you seek services to meet your child's needs. You will soon discover that you have more strength than you ever imagined, and you have more potential support than you ever could have dreamed.
Outer Searching gives you:
- Knowledge, through the quest for a diagnosis and the search for a label
- A new perspective and a new awareness about disabilities through contact with other families
- Strength through a sense of competence, control, and empowerment
Some obstacles to successful Outer Searching are:
- Child-related issues—Your child may not improve as much as you hoped or may lack the stamina or skills required; or hates the program you selected; or unpredictable medical crises may prevent regular involvement in a program
- Parent-related issues—Feelings of powerlessness when bucking systems over inflexible rules; frustration or anger if funds are cut or your child doesn't qualify; exhaustion from carting kids to therapy, driving, waiting, etc.; or you may be using Searching as a distraction to keep from dealing with other feelings
- Program-related issues—Services may be unavailable or too expensive; doctors who do not have answers or who misdiagnose; confusing choices and tough decisions
Your searching will show you that there are no perfect programs, infallible interventions, or quick cures. You will learn to balance the benefits of an intervention against the costs to both your child and your family. If you find yourself "stuck" in the Searching stage, you may want to seek help in getting some new ideas about how to move forward.
“Inner Searching is forced self-development. You work at finding answers to questions that parents of typical children may never have to spend much time on.” Stephanie Niedermeyer from Nobody’s Perfect: Living and Growing with Children Who Have Special Needs, by Nancy J. Miller, PhD, MSW
Inner Searching involves asking life questions. Some of these questions are the same questions all parents face, but some are unique to parents in your situation:
- Am I being a good enough parent to meet my child’s needs?
- How will my child’s needs affect my other children, my marriage, my job, and my interests?
- Will my child ever grow up to be independent?
- Who will take care of my child if something happens to me?
These answers evolve over time, but in the meantime, you may feel anxious, depressed and incompetent because you cannot answer them.
Inner Searching also involves questioning yourself. These questions help you know what you can do today to understand yourself better, to identify your own strengths and limitations, and to find new ways to grow. You will learn to recognize what you can control, focus on those things, and work to change them. You will also learn to take the things you cannot control and let them go or work around them.
Your Inner Search is a journey of self-discovery that begins with the realization that life is going to be different than you had planned. It is looking for a new identity that includes being the parent of a child with a disability. It is the struggle to understand your own attitudes and values about human imperfections. And it is a re-evaluation of your life's goals and priorities beyond your parenting role.
- Life is not fair
- Nobody cares about your problem as much as you do, and no one else can ever really understand what it's like for you
- No one is going to rescue you and make it okay
- If you devote all of your time, energy, and thoughts to your child, someone will pay the price, and that someone may be your child
- Being realistic about your child's abilities and limitations does not mean giving up hope
- Even if your child does not progress in ways important to you, it does not mean you are a failure
- Your child and your child's disability have nothing to do with your self-esteem
- How your child feels about his abilities and limitations is more important than what he can or cannot do
- Things will change. Some will become harder and some will become easier, but they will become different. How you deal with them is what matters
- Somewhere along the way you are going to make mistakes. Nobody is perfect, so why should you expect perfection of yourself?
- You are not the same person you would have been if your child did not have a disability. You can see that as a disappointment, a challenge, or a blessing
The Four Stages of Adaptation model was developed by Dr. Nancy Miller, a psychotherapist and social worker. She worked with four moms over a period of five years and distilled their experiences into the book Nobody’s Perfect: Living and Growing with Children Who Have Special Needs. The model came from conversations with the moms, experiences working with families, and the writings of many parents and professionals.
Dr. Miller’s book was published in 1997. It is highly recommended, but as of June 2014 it is not currently in print. Look for it at your local library or used book store, or look for a used copy at online booksellers.