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Guilt and Kids with Special Needs
the most part pregnancies are met with the anticipation of a good delivery and
healthy baby. Upon delivery parents do a quick scan of the child checking for
ten fingers, ten toes and if unknown, a check of the genitals to determine
gender. A positive check is met with a sense of relief and gracious thanks for
such beautiful a child.
for any number of reasons, not all children enter the world equally well
equipped. They may have physical, or developmental challenges that become
immediately known or known within the first year of life. Such children are
identified as having special needs. These are the kids whose development will
not follow the normal developmental curve and will require special services to
adapt and overcome.
such circumstances parents undergo their own psychological and emotional
adjustment as they adapt to the loss of the well-child as expected and learn to
provide for their child’s extraordinary needs.
parents may feel or may actually be complicit in their child’s special needs.
Drug and alcohol abuse are known contributors to developmental disorders whereas
other unforeseen circumstances beyond anyone’s control may contribute to a
child’s special needs. Regardless, there are a good many parents who whether
reasonably or not, feel complicit in their child’s disorder and suffer
tremendous guilt as a result. This in turn leads some parents to heroic
attention to meeting their child’s needs while others may place minimal
expectations on their child, favouring instead to pamper them so as to atone for
their disability or act with a sense of pity.
parents who undertake heroic actions are at risk of burnout themselves. Further,
marriages under such strain are at risk of dissolving thus actually placing an
even greater burden of care on the primary caregiver, which then intensifies
their risk of burnout.
parents who opt to pamper their child with special needs and hold minimal
expectations are at risk of their child not fully developing to potential.
Further and similar to parenting well-children with minimal expectations, there
is a risk of contributing to poor behaviour and poor socialization. Even kids
with special needs can be spoiled, become self-righteous and behaviourally
unmanageable from a lack of reasonable expectations.
within the same family, the parents are at odds with each other. One parent may
feel a need to pamper, or to provide heroic actions and the other will try to
balance things out by taking an opposite approach. Hence the parent that pampers
is met by the other parent with overly high expectations. Clearly then, there is
a setup for parental conflict leading to a shaky marriage, not to mention mixed
messages for a child with special needs, who more than anything else, needs a
children with special needs requires a presence of mind unlike that of parenting
children whose development follows a normal path. As if issues of guilt, upset
and loss weren’t enough, there is also the fatigue that comes with the
continuous supervision these children require, often in the face of limited
parents who tend to fare better in their own right share certain traits. They
examine their own feelings with a view to managing them in a way to avoid
interference with the care of their children and they learn to pace themselves,
even if it means somewhat slower progress for their children.
all children need their parents, kids with special needs often need their
parents longer… a lot longer.
you are struggling, meeting the needs of your child or if caring for your child
is hurting your marriage, consider counseling. Look at your feelings with the
view to helping you cope and respond better. In the long run, as you invest in
yourself, you are better able to support your child, now and for the future.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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