It's a fact: the families that have the better support networks fare better overall. Keep stringing your support net, and it will be there to catch you when you need it. Here are five more ideas that have worked for me:
- Be Approachable: Open a Caring Bridge website (it's free!) or some other form of communication for sharing. Allow family members to ask questions, even if they seem like rude questions to you. Only by asking can they get honest answers and develop an understanding. Otherwise, if they're silent for fear of saying the wrong thing, it creates a huge gap that can be difficult to close. Instead, reach out to them first.
- Be Realistic: When you've done all you can to build a relationship, recognize that in rare cases, there are just some people in this world that for whatever reason, are not going to be good support for you. If you accept this, you'll be less disappointed later.
- Direct their energies when they want to help: If they want to volunteer, give them some ideas. If they are intimidated at the prospect of babysitting, provide training and only have them do it for short increments of time if they're willing. Even 90 minutes for a dinner out is welcomed! Solicit small donations, even gifts in kind, for schools or organizations. Encourage a charity walk, a few hours of phone work....the possibilities are endless.
- Recognize that everyone learns and develops their comfort level at their own pace: Some people may show their true colors and really come through for you. And others may not. You have to decide what is worth the extra effort and when to cut your losses.
- Relationships with extended family don't have to disintegrate just because you have a child with special needs. But if left neglected, they often do. At times, you're just doing all you can to keep your feet underneath you, and won't be able to nurture the relationship. But get back to it when you can. One of my favorite women on the planet coined the term "It takes a village..." and it's true. You and your special needs child need your extended family as a part of your support network.
Lisa Lightner is an award-winning blogger and Special Education Advocate who lives in suburban Philadelphia with her family. Her special needs parenting blog, A Day in our Shoes, offers IEP tips and family fun for households with a child or children with special needs.