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Finding Emotional Well-Being and Balance as Parents of Children With Disabilities

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Life always involves adversity and challenges. We cannot escape that.

What we do have in our control, though, is how we respond, including developing strategies to deal with challenges and how we look after ourselves.

Through my research into emotional well-being in parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), I realized it can be helpful to think of wellbeing as a form of achieving balance. At times there will be more stressors, or difficulties in life (e.g. fighting for services or behaviors that challenge), so it’s important we regain balance by engaging in more replenishing activities.

For example, after a difficult hospital appointment or meeting in your child’s school, taking time to talk to a good friend, take a walk in nature or just sit and read a book with a hot drink can allow us to gain equilibrium.

Related to balance is the concept of hedonic adaptation. This is the tendency human beings have to return to their usual set-point after highs and lows in life. It is an amazing reflection of our adaptability and flexibility. The return path can be hard and take longer for some than others, depending on the context.

The ability to bounce back following adversity is often referred to as resilience. It can involve recovering as well as flourishing. This is a bit of a buzzword at the moment. But it does depend on many factors and requires sufficient inner and external resources to cope with whatever life throws at us.

A number of parent carers I spoke to have expressed a strong negative reaction to the word resilience. I think in part due to how it is sometimes used to suggest a personal failure on behalf of the parent, i.e. if only they were more resilient then the situation wouldn’t be a problem. When used like this it can be deeply shaming. It also places responsibility on an individual rather than acknowledging the system around the individual or family is failing.

Individuals need community and social support in order to develop resilience in the face of continuous stressors. This can be referred to as “community resilience.”

Supporting our emotional well-being as parent carers is an ongoing process. Being aware of our own emotions, including knowing in advance that something may be difficult, can ensure we build in a protective cushion around ourselves at these times. It’s vital that we learn how to identify and implement strategies that help — day by day.

This story originally appeared on Affinity Hub.

Getty image by Galina Zhigalova.

Originally published: July 6, 2021
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