Do you feel isolated because of your situation? Misunderstood? Frustrated that nobody can relate to the daily challenges you and your family face? You are not alone.
Do you know that most special needs parents feel this way? Most of us have such unique situations that are difficult for our friends and family to relate to. Our lives are diverted and become consumed with new priorities: appointments, procedures, therapy, and simply caring for our child. It’s not unusual for our former friendships to die by the wayside as we lose connections and find ourselves unable to relate with each other. Sometimes the only place we can feel understood is in support groups.
Do we have to transfer our friendships to “special needs parents only” groups? How can we nurture those friendships we cherish but seem to slip through the cracks once special needs affects our family? I’d like to suggest just a few ways to grow those friendships.
Empathize with them. That sounds crazy doesn’t it? Especially when you are the one going through hard situations. But really, put yourself in their shoes. If roles were reversed, how would you approach them? What if you said something that was insensitive or unintentionally hurtful? It’s intimidating, isn’t it? Remember this when they approach you, say the wrong thing or even worse, say nothing at all.
Reach out to them. Sometimes people will avoid you because they have no idea what to say or how to act. They’ve never experienced what you are going through and are likely at a loss of how to care. Instead of pressing your situation on them, nurture your friendship by asking them about their life. Be interested in what’s happening in their family. Don’t compare your situation to theirs. Let the conversation naturally find areas for you both to share with one another.
Teach them how to enter in. Be the leader on how to talk about your child and situation. Let them into your life and you will be surprised how much people do want to reach out, help and talk to you. They just need a place to start. If friends ask you for an update, don’t overwhelm them with an hour monologue, instead give them the highlights and then reciprocate care for them. This mutual exchange is what makes friendships work. Anytime we monopolize a friendship with the immensity of our needs only, it will whither.
Find someone who does understand. It’s amazing how freeing it is to have a friend that has walked through similar circumstances. You feel like they “get” it and you’re willing to take advice from them because they’ve been there. Perhaps you can only find this in an online support group, that’s great! Use that space to get the feedback and mutual understanding you may not be able to find with your other friendships. This frees your other friendships from the necessity of always trying to “make them understand.”
No matter how well we nurture our friendships many of us may have still have painful disappointments with friends. Don’t bottle these up and let them fester inside. Bring them to Jesus. Take all the hurts, misunderstanding, painful words and lay them at His feet. He understands far better than the best earthly friend could. His comfort can saturate the depths of our painful wounds and bring healing.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
What about you? Are there ways you’ve tried to nurture friendships? How have your friends responded? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments!