Friendship and Special Needs Parenthood

weed your friends listAs special needs parents, isolation is part of the package. This may not be a problem for an introvert but as an extrovert, who is quite energized by people, it is! In fact, I need friends all the more on this journey.

Before I had kids, I possessed that “friends” experience; I had my own Ross, Monica, and Rachel and we would sit on couches, in each other’s homes, and talk about anything. I loved that! But now that I have two special needs kids, it has become a lot harder to have that group interaction experience and spontaneous outings have to be super planned. Our family dynamic is very different from families with typical kids. I envy parents that go everywhere with their kids. We simply cannot do this, Dan’s need for structure and his sensory sensitivities require meticulous attention to detail, and we usually need an exit plan during holidays or other family outings.

For this reason, the people in our circle have to add to our lives and not detract from it. Sometimes we hold onto friendships because of nostalgia, or routine, or sheer desperation. We may be so lonely that we settle for a person that is nearby or in your circle by default. But as I get older and realize my power, the need to stay in friendships that don’t work has lost its grip. I have also realized that there are certain things that I require in a friendship.  To be my friend, you have to match my level of vulnerability. If you are armored, keep walking. I just do not have the energy to chip away at your wall.

To be my friend, you have to match my level of vulnerability. If you are armored, keep walking. I just do not have the energy to chip away at your wall. 

 

I also don’t want to chase you. My role in friendships, pre-kids, was “scheduler.” I brought all my friends together, I am a planner that way. I suppose I still do this to an extent. But now, my special needs kids require over-the-top planning. I have to plan IEP meetings, therapy schedules, school visits, case worker appointments, doctor visits, outings, dentist visits, follow up calls, etc. You get the point. The last thing I want to do is have to track you down for a date. It needs to be a mutual investment. I don’t usually like to pull out the autism card on my friends but, you know what? This is a darn giant and heavy card and I shouldn’t have to pull it out. True friends will see this card from miles away.  I am not saying that all your friends should bow to you and do whatever you say. It is a give and take with friendship. I realize that I also have to give.

I don’t usually like to pull out the autism card on my friends but, you know what? This is a darn giant and heavy card and I shouldn’t have to pull it out. True friends will see this card from miles away. 

Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been my decision to let go of friendships. I have actually lost a couple friends since having the boys as I suppose that THEY have weeded ME from their lives. A lot of people can’t handle Daniel. I have had failed play dates because of his meltdowns. You have to really like me to stick it out with us!

And the important people WILL stick it out. Thank God, because, we need all the friends we can get! I currently have a couple of extraordinary friends. But this happened over time. When you stop investing in friendships that don’t serve you, God opens the doors to people that genuinely want to be part of your life. The friends I invest in now are super vulnerable and I don’t have to chase! We have a mutual, unspoken agreement that we want to be part of each other’s lives, so we both make the effort to keep the friendship going. I call one day, another day they call. There’s no chasing, no games, and no constant excuses. If one of us cancels and can’t make it there are no underlying feelings of resentment or wondering where we stand with each other because we are both invested. We both know where we stand. It’s exactly what I need at this point in my life.

At the end of the day the lesson I continue to learn as I gain friends and lose others, is that people that really want to take the time to know you, that want to continue investing in the friendship, that want to continue on this journey with you as you share the good and the bad, those are the people that will understand your life and try to be flexible so that they can be part of the ride. These are the friends worth keeping. You can’t choose the cards you are dealt but you can choose who you play with.

What is your experience with friendships on your journey as a special needs parent?

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