When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.
My life is greatly enriched by my girlfriends who include my friends, sisters, aunts, daughters and my mother. I am so grateful for each and everyone of them. Having good friends is life enhancing and stress reliving. These ladies are priceless and make my world adventuresome and well worth while. Having a friend who will listen, laugh and cry with you is an amazing thing.
I think most of us would agree about the importance of friends in one’s life. According to Madeline Vann, MPH in an article titled The Importance of Friendships (www.everydayhealth.com), “Spending time with friends is fun, but it may also yield a multitude of long-term physical and emotional health benefits. Studies show that healthy relationships make aging more enjoyable, lessen grief, and provide camaraderie to help you reach personal goals, among other things. Maintaining positive relationships should rank up there with healthy eating and exercise as a necessary investment in your health.” She rates friendships as sacred as healthy diets and exercise.
Friends can be for a season or a lifetime. Common threads in life help hold friendships together and often when those threads change friendships can change or cease to exist. It’s not always a conscience choice – just all of the sudden it’s been months since you have spoken to someone. And those months can turn into years. Social media can help you stay in touch but it can also hinder more personal interactions.
Often when you have a special needs child, the dynamics of your friendships can change. I tried to find research on how having a special needs child can affect one’s friendships and really didn’t find anything. It’s probably one of the last things in the realm of special need issues to worry about. There is information about marriage and siblings but friendships seem overlooked. In my mind friendships are crucial in life and can really affect the overall perception a person has of his or her life. Many moms of special needs children feel excluded and often report losing friends after their child’s diagnosis. For me, I felt that I lost a number of friends after my son was hurt. My whole life revolved around his care and therapies and I didn’t have much time or energy to devote to friends. A few special friends stuck by me but most slowly faded into the background. It is true that even without a child with special needs many friends are just in your life for a season. We just tend to lose touch with people when we are not involved in activities where we see them regularly. Most people have such busy lives.
The isolation of raising a child with significant health care needs can be lessened by reaching out to other parents in similar situations. Parent support groups provide natural therapy and camaraderie. We all need good support teams and people we can laugh, have fun and even cry or vent with. They can help provide empathy and understanding. To feel supported and valued is critical. Being able to connect with people who can understand my world, the joy and pain and exhaustion really helps me. They help me to know that I am not totally alone in this journey. I am not the only one with a child who has severe brain damage or other special health care needs. It helps to see that others have needs also. Last weekend, I had the privilege to attend a ladies night with a few other moms of children with special needs. It was so good for my soul, heart and mind to have time with them. It was a wonderful way to help reduce the stress in my life, and have some fun. All of our stories are so different, each of our children have different abilities and challenges but we understand each other’s world. We are automatically members of this club that none of us aspired to be in but once in this so called “club of parents of children with special needs” it is not such a bad place. It’s actually a rather caring and real place to be.
I have met some amazing friends through different therapies that we have done for my son. During the therapies, you tend to meet other like minded individuals who are tying hard to help their child or loved one. A good friend commented when we would all go to lunch with half of us in wheelchairs that it didn’t feel so different or odd when there was a group of us. We actually all felt typical and were a huge source of support for one another. It is an empowering feeling.
I also need to connect with friends who knew me before my child with special needs. Sometimes I need that reminder of my own identity and sometimes I just need to feel like I did before this all happened in my life. So for me, my friends from before my son was born and my friends who have children with special needs, all play an important role in keeping my mind healthy and my life fabulous.
Sometimes, I get so caught up in my own world, I forget to reach out to my friends and other important ladies and let them know that I care about them too. It can be hard to find time to hang out with friends. There are so many things to do. Our families have to come first but we should not forget our friends. I need to revaluate my role in not keeping up with friends. I want to thank all the important females in my life – my friends, sisters, aunts, daughters and my mother!! I value you and will work harder at maintaining those relationships.
So ladies (and guys too) don’t forget to set aside some girlfriend time (or guy time) every now and then. It’s good for the soul!