To the Special Needs Parent Having a Pity Party


Dear parents of a child with special needs,

I probably don’t know you, but I know that look you sometimes get. Maybe you’re feeling sorry for yourself, but you’re also feeling guilty about it. It can be common among us special needs parents, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

I just experienced that guilty sadness when my 10-year-old son had an epic meltdown within minutes of walking into a birthday party.  He hadn’t even taken off his coat before demanding that the host turn on more lights and then crumbling to the ground, screaming, swearing and crying when she said no.   

It’s ironic. We special needs parents lament about how our kids never get invited to birthday parties, and then when we finally get an invitation, we might wonder why we’ve accepted it.

It’s been a particularly difficult couple of days for me, and I’m feeling uncharacteristically bad for myself.

It’s time for a pity party.

You should know I almost always consider myself a glass-half-full kind of person. But this week my son keeps drinking from my glass, and now it’s empty.

He takes his first sip at the birthday party, and as the week progresses he keeps drinking.

He calls his brother a bunch of swear words. There’s a drink right there.

He smacks his sister on the back. That’s a gulp.

He refuses to come in from outside because he’s having too much fun. That’s a sip.

Finally he empties the contents of my glass by darting out into the street to retrieve a ball. He is about to return home when I turn around from the mailbox just in time to shout “Don’t move!” The oncoming car stops and lets him cross.

The scenario that plays in my head is much different. In this version, he is in the middle of the street and the car doesn’t stop. A parent should not have to worry about a 10-year-old running into the street.

So what do I do?

I hug my son because I’m so relieved he is safe, and then I plan to throw myself a pity party. You’re welcome to join me.  And not because misery loves company, but because sadness sometimes needs company. (Didn’t we learn that from the movie “Inside Out”?)

So now that you’re here, welcome.

Did you bring any wine?

How about brownies?

Not too many, I hope, because this party won’t last long. It can’t. Unfortunately I don’t have any brownies to offer, and I can’t justify opening a bottle of wine at 9 a.m.

I love a good pity party, but on one condition: It has to be short, and my kids aren’t invited. I guess that’s two conditions.

Feeling sorry for yourself sometimes is perfectly acceptable (and therapeutic) because every person deserves the chance to grieve. We need to accept and acknowledge our feelings even if they aren’t pleasant. We shouldn’t expect to be happy or positive all the time. That’s why I like to have a good but short pity party. 

At times I like to party solo by letting myself think all the bad thoughts, and sometimes that’s enough. There are other occasions where talking a walk is just what I need to work through all the feelings that shout in my head. It’s OK to eat an entire bag of M&Ms or my favorite, Jelly Bellys. Sometimes I call another autism mom to unload. She doesn’t have to say anything. Just listening is enough. I know she gets it.

On the day when I realized my cup was emptied, I told my son I was feeling sad. Right before he got on the bus I asked him what he does when he feels down.

“I cry,” he says.

I ask: “Does that help?”

“Yep.”

He’s right. I feel better.

The party’s over. It was a short one. It almost always is.

Like I said, bad or stressful things happen all the time, and it’s OK to grieve occasionally. Have a pity party in a way that works for you, but don’t stay too long because good things happen, too. Don’t our children give us so much more to celebrate? Common behaviors for other kids can be huge milestones for ours. And you don’t want to miss those joyful moments by spending too much time at your pity party – even if there are brownies and wine. 

Follow this journey on SpecialEv.com.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


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