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5 Ways to be a Good Friend to a Mom of a Child With a Disability

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A few months ago, my best friend invited me to speak to her “Mothers of Pre-Schoolers (MOPS) group on the topic of, “How to be a good friend to a mom of a kiddo with disabilities.”

I was thrilled at the prospect of getting to share on this topic!

Over the years, I have thought a lot about how grateful I am for all of the things (big and small) my close friends have done to be a good friend to me and hang in there with me through all the hard times. My plan was to speak about my own experiences, but I decided it would be a more valuable conversation if I could offer to my audience the perspectives and experiences of several moms of kids with disabilities. So I put a callout on Facebook to all of my “special needs moms” friends and asked them: “What have your friends done over the years to be a good friend to you?”

Based on their responses, I’ve put together my top 5 list of things you can do to be a good friend to a mom of a child with a disability. (Drum roll please….)

5. Teach your kids about my kid.

For several of us, our friend’s kids are the only friends our kid have. This is true in our case. I am so dependent on my friends kids to be Julia’s friend.

It means so much to me to have close friends who have done a good job of talking to their kids about Julia, teaching them about how to be her friend and making them feel comfortable when they are around her.

This means my friends have had all the tough conversations with their kids again and again in order to help them understand and keep Julia fresh in their minds so when they see her, they are more comfortable with embracing her. I can hardly put into words how much this means to us — to have little friends who move towards Julia rather than away. Because out there in the world it can be really tough to be a kid with disabilities and find kids who are comfortable being your friend.

We need our friend’s kids to be our kid’s friends, so if you will put the work in o helping your kids love my kid, then you have been a really good friend to me.

4. Offer to learn about my kid.

One of the things several moms mentioned in response to my request is that they really appreciate it when friends have asked, “How can I learn more about your kid?” “Is there a book I can read about the diagnosis?” “Is there a video I can watch that will teach me more about what you are working on or going through?”

Friends who want to know more about the nitty gritty of what we are going through stand out to us!

In my own life, I’ve had friends ask, “Can I watch a video of her seizures so that I know what they look like?” “Tell me what to do if I see a seizure so I can help her and you.”

Other moms mentioned it has meant a lot to them when friends offer to learn how to take care of their kid so they can babysit. This means a ton to mom’s like me because most of us aren’t comfortable leaving our kids with hardly anyone because our kids are so complex.

Another mom shared her friends asked her, “What can I do to make my visits less anxiety provoking for your daughter, tell me how I can come over and make it easier on her.”

One more thought on this particular strategy, I’ve found it to be especially touching when a friend has shared with me how they have done something differently because of the impact our family has had on them. Letting us know how our story has impacted your life can really be a boost!

3. Let us know we are not forgotten.

The overwhelming tone of the feedback I received on this topic is that so many moms of kids with disabilities feel forgotten. Sometimes it can feel like the world is passing us by and we are still here, doing our best, but we feel like no one remembers.

And I get it, I really do. Typical child development puts you with other families who are also experiencing typical child development. For most moms, social interactions revolve around the connections kids make with other kids — this makes sense. But for moms of kids with disabilities (and dads and grandmas and grandpas), you don’t have those natural connections, or they are so much harder to find. Tthat can lead to feeling like the world is moving on without us.

I had a friend ask me one time, “How can I be a good friend to you?”

My answer was, “I’m just afraid we are going to be left behind by everyone.”

So all that to say, anything you do to remind a mom of a child with disabilities that you remember her, is so valued!  Texts, messages, cards, gifts — any of those things may not seem like much or may seem fairly simple, but they really do matter!

To a mom of a kid with disabilities who is feeling lonely and forgotten by the world, your attention in any form can be huge! I can’t say enough how ongoing reminders of, “Hey there, I see you, I remember you!” can mean to a mom like me.

2. Show up and listen (no answers or advice needed).

Please, please, please just show up! Swing by, say hi — that’s all we need!

You are off the hook in terms of needing to know what to say or have any answers — we don’t know the answers anyway — it’s all unchartered territory for the most part. But if you can just show up, ignore the chaos, ignore any bad behavior coming from our child and just sit with us and listen (let us vent, let us cry, let us brag, let us whine) you will be giving us such a gift! If you show up in your sweats and bring chocolate even better! But mainly, just having a friend who can sit and listen, who will validate the tough things we are going through without giving advice, is invaluable!

We all need this, right? Moms of kids with disabilities just really, really need it — and most of the time we are dependent on you coming to us in order to get it. So please, swing by, show up, hang out for a bit — lend us your ear, show us some love. In doing that you are being such a good friend to us!

1. Invite us — please, please invite us!

The overwhelmingly number one thing you can do to be a good friend to a mom of a child with disabilities is to invite her to things. Invite her and invite her family. Just invite!

She probably won’t come.

Her family probably won’t come.

Don’t be offended — just keep inviting them. The invitation matters.

There is nothing more meaningful to moms like me and families like ours than getting that invitation. It goes with some of the other things already mentioned on this list — like reminding us we aren’t forgotten and helping your kids be friends with our kid. That invitation means so much! Over the years the invitations tend to stop. Friends assume you can’t come or your child wouldn’t be able to attend (which could be very true), so they just stop asking. And this then fuels that cycle of loneliness.

So, if you really want to be a good friend to a mom of a child with disabilities, keep inviting her to do stuff — and don’t worry if she can’t come, leaves early, or cancels last minute because her kid is having a tough day. That is just what happens, but know you have done the meaningful part by extending her that invitation.

We cannot go wrong trying to care for each other.

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Thinkstock image by DGLimages

Originally published: November 15, 2017
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