Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Joy of Friendship

To My Dear Friends Amy, Karen R, Marlena, and Karen M,

Our friendship began when our children were small. Four of us met when our children's autism class was meeting at the YMCA. You came to observe your child, and I was there because Caleb wasn't allowed to swim without me being in the pool with him. After the kids got back on their school bus, we would all converge at a local restaurant to share our stories, laugh and shed a few tears together.

Over the years our fifth member was added and our group has been that much richer for the addition. We didn't set out to create a support group; we were just moms of special children, gathering for encouragement and lunch, but what has transpired over the past ten years never ceases to amaze me. 

We have grown from inexperienced mothers trying to figure out what our children's diagnosis meant and how to make it through those challenging childhood behaviors to experienced mothers who are now trying to navigate the challenging adolescent years.

What has kept our friendship strong over so many years and so many trials? Obviously our children brought us together initially, but I have met several other people who have children with the same diagnosis who have not bonded in this way. 

I believe what has made our group so strong is an element that is greatly missing in much of motherhood. It is the element of true acceptance. We each have different personalities and have chosen to walk different paths with our children. We have differing views on everything from religion to healthcare to the best interventions. And yet, the one thing we all have in common is a deep and passionate love for our children. This love has led some of us to take our children to doctors and to utilize medication. It has led others of us to avoid the medical profession at all costs and to find treatment through alternative approaches. And yet others of us have chosen to walk a path of neither medical nor alternative medicine.   But what we have provided to each other is a true respect for the choices that we each make. We have been able to rise above the need to defend our approach and have been able to honor each other with an openness to hear and appreciate the value in each choice. 

I realize what a rare gift this friendship is. Parenthood is such an uncertain territory and because of this, most parents feel some insecurity about their parenting. I believe this causes so many to defend their choices as though theirs is the only correct way. The sad thing to this approach, though, is that it alienates parents from anyone except those who are like minded. And in this isolation, we miss out on being free to accept that we don't have all the answers and we don't know everything. It keeps us in a bondage of sorts, needing to defend our approaches. And in so doing, we miss out on the depth of rich friendships that can be formed from connecting with others who look at life through a different lens. 

My challenge to all parents, but especially to those of children with special needs, please let down your guard and reach out to other parents. Choose to base your friendship on a mutual love for your children, not on the approach that you have chosen to use in parenting your child. For one thing that I have observed over the past seventeen years is that although my friends and I have all chosen different paths, our children all seem to be arriving at the same destination. So let's accept that there are many good ways to raise a child who has special needs; the one variable that will carry us all through is the deep love that we have for our child. And if we are able to respect other parents along the path, perhaps this won't be such a lonely road. 

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