Article 3 in a series

This article covers the third stage of adaptation: Settling In. Be sure to read the articles on this site covering the other three stages:

Stage 1: Surviving

Stage 2: Searching

Stage 4: Separating

More control and balance

Settling In is seeing the world for what it is and seeing yourself for who you are. It is moving beyond the intense emotions of Surviving, feeling less of the sense of urgency of Searching, and gaining a greater sense of control and balance in your daily life.

Settling In is a time of more predictable, settled-in living. Settling In is a time of integrating your child's needs into the rest of your life and working to establish a new sense of stability and harmony for yourself and your entire family.

A shift in your attitudes

Settling In is a time of shifting perspective about your child's needs. You shift your focus to finding ways to help your child do whatever is possible by using whatever means are available. Here are some attitudes you may notice:

  • Your definition of "normal" changes—you develop a new normalcy within your family
  • You begin to come to terms with "what is"
  • You do not worry as much
  • You don't feel as much of a sense of urgency—you realize you don't have to spend every available minute "teaching" your child, and that more isn't always better
  • You find yourself letting go of unrealistic expectations
  • You know that Searching will be reactivated from time to time
  • You know that you may feel sad, guilty, or frightened from time to time

A shift in your balance

In the Settling In stage you establish some new priorities for your life and for your child's life. Here are some of the ways you may notice this shift happening:

  • You are better able to understand what is important in the moment
  • Your child's total needs have become your focus, not just the disability
  • You are getting on with the rest of your life
  • You learn to juggle the daily requirements and try to make some time for yourself
  • Your daily life may be more predictable
  • You learn that the balance changes as some things get easier, some things get harder, and many things just get different

A shift in control

Settling In will also find you feeling more in control in many ways. Signs of this shift include:

  • You no longer just react
  • You have a lot more information than you did when you first learned your child had a disability, and you know who to ask when you have questions
  • You have new skills for Searching
  • You are more assertive and knowledgeable, and the professionals you deal with recognize this
  • You are moving forward with a sense of vitality and purpose
  • You work on making your life and your family's life as stable and cohesive as possible
  • You are finding what works for you, you are better able to make choices about your life
  • You have a network of support
  • You are a lot more flexible than you used to be
  • You are more able to control your emotions and are able to relax and be more flexible about the daily ups and downs of life

Obstacles to Settling In

Some families are never able to enjoy the feeling of the Settled In stage, or the feeling may be delayed due to certain obstacles. Typical obstacles to Settling In may include:

  • Continued medical crises, or aggressive/self-destructive behaviors, or the physical or mental health of any family member
  • Lack of financial resources or adequate insurance
  • Severe medical, learning, emotional, or behavior problems that families are not able to meet at home
  • A marriage or relationship that cannot weather the storm
  • Single parenting resulting in juggling all the responsibilities
  • The Surviving and Searching Stages return due to a move, school transition or a major change in your child’s needs

About the Four Stages of Adaptation

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.