Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fight or Flight?

It has been my observation that loving parents with special needs children have spent years in fight or flight mode.   There is so much to navigate: the medical system; the school system; the family system; the social system; and on and on.   You've probably learned along the way that you and you alone are the best person to advocate for your child.  I am sure that many of you have also endured disapproving, judgmental glances from professionals, family members, and strangers in the grocery store.  It’s a lot to manage logistically and emotionally.  As a result, many such parents, in order to protect themselves and their child, don their armor and keep their swords safely by their side. 

We all tend to look at the world through various perspective or lenses.  A classic example of this is the perspective of viewing life through the lens of “a glass half empty” or “ a glass half full”.  We can also look through various other lenses such as “I am a victim of life’s circumstances”  versus “I am empowered as well as given opportunities for learning and growth by making mistakes and by enduring injustice.”

Unfortunately, many parents of special needs children begin to see parenting through the   lens of, “I must fight for my child and protect him or her at all cost.”  Though it is very understandable why parents use this lens, one must ask,” Is this always the best lens in which to use to assist my child?”

Questions/thoughts to ponder when you feel yourself going into fight mode:

  • Is this really worth fighting for?  In other words, choose your battles.
  • Is this my child’s issue or my issue?  Sometimes the things for which one fights doesn’t really concern or impact their child.  When a big deal is made out of something that a parent finds disconcerting, children take note of their parent’s worries/anxieties and interpret them as a negative reflection on the child as being weak and defective.
  • Do I need to advocate for my child or is this an incident in which I can teach my child to advocate for himself? As children grow and mature it is very important for them to learn the skills that will assist them in advocating for themselves in an appropriate manner.  This is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.
  • How resilient do I want my child to be?  No child becomes resilient without some struggles, disappointments, and failures. The question becomes, “Is this a struggle my child can endure?”  Please keep in mind that your child is probably stronger than you think.
  • Is the person I have challenged to a duel a true threat or perhaps just offering a different perspective?  Trusting others can be difficult especially if various systems have failed you.  However, there are some wonderful caring professionals that can assist you in navigating these systems.  Unfortunately, if out of reflex, one draws their sword, they may miss out on some healing benefits for their child and themselves.

 It is not an easy task to identify the lenses in which we view the world and harder still to change the prescription on those lenses.  Surround yourself with a healthy support network that can assist you in answering the above questions, challenge your thinking in a loving, nonjudgmental manner, and who respectfully allow you to make mistakes and grow.