There are around 13.5 million special needs parents in the U.S., assuming a two-parent household. These parents have amazing children with a variety of needs that may include cognitive, physical, social, chronic, life-threatening, or other medical disabilities. Being a special needs parent is in many ways similar to a non-special needs parent, but in so many ways it is very different. There can be a variety of emotions and experiences as special needs children develop at their own pace. Hopes for their future grows with them. Being a special needs dad is an amazing and challenging marathon. Here are six truths that many special needs dads will be able to relate to.
#1 I Am Exhausted
Parenting children is exhausting. With their huge reserves of energy, financial needs, varying personalities, and need for adventure, being a parent is one of the hardest jobs you are not paid for. Raising a special needs child often requires a nearly super human level of resolve. This complex relationship often highlights the unconditional love inherent in all humans. The extra work required can often leave a well of emotional and physical exhaustion that can’t be filled by sleep.
Hospitals and appointments may be a regular occurrence; horrid procedures may leave you exhausted and distressed, and behavioral issues may be an entirely different level. Not to mention the bills and research that stack up like a skyscraper. Sometimes, just five minutes of respite or sending your child to the zoo with a family member so you can watch an entire episode of your favorite show get you through the day. Any help is appreciated and can combat some of the fatigue.
#2 I Don’t Want To Be, But I’m Jealous
Sometimes, seeing typical children effortlessly complete tasks and reach milestones can make you feel pangs of jealousy. While your child struggles to walk, tie their shoes, or do basic math, the typical children have mastered these tasks, already. Sometimes, you think, “It’s not fair.” This jealousy can, at times, extend to other special needs children who may be able to do more than your own. Though you don’t tell many people about these feelings, they are still there. As a special needs dad, it may be hard, sometimes, for you to feel enthusiasm for typical children’s accomplishments, but you participate still, and you celebrate all the accomplishments of your own child.
#3 I Need Others. I Feel Alone.
Often, raising a special needs child can be very lonely. Your child is different in many ways from typical children, and if your child has a rare condition, he/she is also different from many special needs children. This can make you feel isolated with your child. How can you explain to the world how important your child is? How do you explain their exact needs? To combat some of this loneliness, you may look for support groups, either face-to-face, online, or both. These can bring a wealth of similar experience and triumphs that can boost your spirits and reduce some of your loneliness. You love your child, and often, that immense love can lead to loneliness as you try to look out for your child’s best interests.
#4 I Am Scared For My Child’s Future
When you have a special needs child, you may fear for their future. Even if they are on the milder end of disability, that concern may be present. The fear of having not done enough may shadow your days as you research different therapies, support groups, and methods to help your child. Issues of driving, getting married, holding a job, being hurt, or living independently, may wear on your mind if you have a child at a certain level of disability.
With other levels of disability, you may wonder who will care for your child, if you will have enough money to pay for their care, and who will love your child as you do. For all of these children, a looming question may be, “What will happen to my child when I am gone?” Many of these fears may stay with you, but some may be curbed through support groups and witnessing other children with your child’s condition thriving.
#5 I Hate When You Throw “Retarded” Around
Words hurt. Many times, people say comments like this with no thought to their meaning. They throw these insulting words around without any regard to you, as a special needs parent, or your child. When you hear these words, it may feel like a knife in your chest. Your child is a wonderful little person just as they are.
To everyone reading this article: Please stop saying words such as “retard” or “short bus”. These words flung around with little thought are hurtful to the parents who love their children and the children themselves. If you hear someone use these words, please say something.
#6 I Am A Regular Human
Being a special needs dad may seem like a great recipe for birthing an infinitely patient, never exhausted, super human, but the truth is, it doesn’t. Like any other person on this planet, you get tired, feel irritated, and want to crawl under the nearest blanket for days. Raising a special needs may push your self-discipline, courage, and love to another level, but you are still a regular human. Full of desires, dreams, and life.
Life with a special needs child is a journey unlike any other. It’s full of obstacles, victories, heartaches, and inspirations that you would not have seen otherwise. Keep being a great dad and showing the world how wonderful your child is. Celebrate all of his/her accomplishments.
Finally, if you are unfamiliar with special needs children or their parents, offer support not judgement. It could make their day much brighter.