With 2017 approaching, it is a good moment to stop and take inventory of the people in our lives. Each person that comes into our life plays some kind of important role. Our relationships define who we are. The saying goes “You are the company that you keep.” Some of the people in our lives are warm, loving, caring, supportive and help get us to where we want to be while other individuals can make our lives complicated, stressful, toxic and don’t help get us anywhere besides heartache and headache.
The people who are warm and helpful are our partners. They are our support system. They help us go forward and help us accomplish our goals and missions. Parents of children with special needs need a very strong sense of support and can't afford to lose energy in toxic relationships.
The parents whom I work with need people who will listen to them when they need to vent; they need someone who will be there through the good times and the bad. Parenting a child with any special need can be chaotic and extremely stressful. It helps to have someone who understands when you have to cancel plans or when you “fall off the face of the earth” and don’t answer a text, email or phone call until a few weeks later; a friend or family member who is a shoulder to cry on or share in your excitement when your child makes even the tiniest progress.
I encourage you to take a moment to reciprocate their love. Never assume that they know that you love and appreciate them. The more you show your appreciation, the more likely they are to want to continue to help, support, and love you. And the more they are there for you, the more likely you will be able to move forward and better handle the challenges related to raising a child with special needs, feeling surrounded by love and support.
The people who are toxic in our life are an interruption and hindrance. They bring nothing but pain and anger to your already stressful life. Friends and family members who may question your actions and motives fall into this category. They may believe that your child really doesn’t have any kind of disability and just needs to be disciplined better. They may know a “better” treatment that will help heal your son and daughter when they have never spoke to your child’s therapist or read any of his or her reports. They don’t seem to realize that questioning your parenting style is not helpful but instead is harmful. Their lack of empathy creates a sense of frustration and insecurity in you as a parent and as a person.
Right away you may think to yourself “I have to get rid of that person now and cut all ties”. Ideally that would be the easiest thing to do, but unfortunately that is not always possible. You can’t cut ties with your mother-in-law or other family members, so it may be best to sit down with the person and your spouse. In a non- confrontational matter tell him or her that he or she is effecting your life in a negative way. They are not helping you be the best parent for your child but instead is harming you and your child. If they question your child’s diagnosis, ask them to join you at a therapy session or if they are interested in reading your child’s IEP report.
Invite them to see how their behavior is affecting you. No matter how angry and upset you get in this kind of conversation—try to keep a calm voice. It may help to write out what you want to say in advance, knowing that it will be an emotional conversation. Make sure that you are the bigger person no matter how argumentative they become. If you see that they are not open to listening to you, and they are set in their ways, then it is time to sit down and speak to your spouse about how you would like to proceed forward.
Remember that life is way too short to be handling and tolerating such negativity and toxicity. Take a moment to realize who stays in your life and deserves your appreciation and thanks. Remember your actions and decisions will ultimately help you become a stronger person and more empowered parent–and that you and your family are deserving of love and support.
Frances Victory, Ph.D., C.P.C., is a Developmental Psychologist, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Speaker, and Certified Life Coach at Victory Coaching LLC. For more information about her services, please check out her website: www.drvictorycoaching.com. She can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.