A job that must be learned

To survive and succeed as a parent of a child with disabilities, we all need to get some support and learn some new skills. No one is born knowing how to do this job.  Everything you can learn that helps you find peace of mind will also help your child and the rest of your family. Then you can build a positive family environment.

Learn to process your emotions

Consider your emotions and make emotional choices thoughtfully. Ask yourself, “What are the emotions that dominate my life right now?”

When you have a child with some kind of diagnosis or label, you will probably go through a process of grief for the child you expected and didn't get. You'll feel loss, sorrow, and anger. You'll search for answers, you'll sense loneliness. And the process can recur when you least expect it, such as at key turning points in your child’s life. We all do this. Both failing to acknowledge these emotions and getting stuck in them will make your parenting experience harder. Don’t be afraid to feel these emotions, but feel them and look for ways to move on.

Move toward having greater peace of mind

Try these tips to help manage your emotions:

  • Find someone to talk to who really understands your emotions, someone you can be honest with and not feel judged
  • Accept that some people close to you may not experience grief in the same way you do
  • Don’t judge your emotions, but accept that you are going to go through hard times and emotional pain—you will have down times, but you will have up times, too
  • Remind yourself that you are not crazy—you are a person caught in a difficult situation, trying to cope the best way you know how
  • Live in the present—don’t dwell on regrets about the past or worry about a future that no one can predict
  • Practice balancing the many needs and pressures of your life and find a little time for yourself

Focus on the positive

It may sound trite, but you really can create a positive outlook. You have a choice for how you react to the events of your life. Try these techniques to keep things moving in a positive direction:

  • Use humor to gain some perspective and give yourself some breathing room
  • Notice the stories you tell yourself about what you experience—the words you use to tell these stories will influence how you think and feel
  • Reframe negatives to positives. Instead of thinking, “That person is such a jerk for staring at my child,” you might just as easily think, “I wonder if that person has a child at home like mine and is trying to decide whether to speak up or not.”
  • Practice forgiveness for the slights, hurts, mistakes and injustices you may experience on your child’s behalf—don’t take it personally

More tips

  • Find another parent to share your feelings with
  • Join a parent group or online listserv
  • Go to a therapist if you really feel stuck, even if it is just for a short time or a tune-up. Ask other parents and professionals for referrals to a therapist who understands what you are going through

By Rosemary Alexander, PhD, Texas Parent to Parent, www.txp2p.org