Where Did our Friends Go?

It was over 20 years ago, but I remember clearly how much my wife Kathy enjoyed being pregnant. She and a few good friends were all expecting their first child around the same time. As the months passed, they got quite close because they had so much in common.

One by one the babies arrived. Then it was our turn. Our Melissa came into the world. Even before we could get her home, we discovered that she had a rare metabolic disorder that made her a weak, sickly baby. It only took a couple of “mom outings” with the babies before it happened. Kathy was quickly ostracized from the group. And now on top of the trauma of having a special needs child, her friends abandoned her!

If you have been divorced, it has happened to you. If someone close to you has died, it has happened to you. And sadly, if you have a special needs child, it has also happened to you. It is called abandonment.

Why do people abandon us in our time of greatest need?

The simple answer is that they were not REALLY your friend in the first place. They were what we have come to know as Fair Weather Friends—people who are only your friend when circumstances are pleasant or profitable. At the first sign of trouble, these capricious, disloyal friends will drop their relationship with you.

In our case as special needs parents, we are often abandoned by those who we thought were our friends. This happens because those people do not have the strength to stand beside us in our greatest time of need. Their inability to be there for us often stems from FEAR. Some factors that contribute to their decision to abandon you include:

1. They don’t know what to say to you. They fear that they might say the “wrong” thing and accidentally hurt you (as if you could hurt any more than you already do). I think this is a cop-out, but it is often cited by those who walk away as their reason. In reality, it is a sign of immaturity and selfishness.

2. They are afraid. People fear sickness and death. If they see that you are facing this every day, they want to run as far away from it as possible.

3. They avoid responsibility. Seeing you struggle, they anticipate that you might ask them to help. Of course that help requires that they assume a certain amount of responsibility—something that they are unwilling to give.

4. You and your child are a constant “reminder” that the same fate might befall them. This seems especially prevalent with new parents whose children are unaffected but who visualize that this might happen to their “next” child. It is also the result of fear that is also combined with selfishness.

5. They are ignorant and uninformed. While it might seem unthinkable in today’s world, many are simply ignorant of the medical issues and implications that you and your child face. The most prominent fear is that their children might somehow “catch” it.

Unfortunately, these situations are not limited to casual relationships. Family members can also abandon you. And it is not uncommon for fellow church-members to walk the other way when they see you coming!

When this happens to us, we lose the support infrastructure that we THOUGHT we had in place. We feel alone. We lose faith in fellow man. And we begin to withdraw. We build “walls” around us for protection. We become isolated, which leads to depression. We begin to feel sorry for ourselves. And even our strongest relationship (with our spouse) begins to suffer.

So what should we do when this happens to us?

Create a new set of friends. There are MANY parents who are going through the same life-challenges as you. Find them. Connect with them. You will find that they too have lost many fair-weather friends and are struggling with the same anger and fear as you.

This is easier today with the Internet because it can facilitate connecting those with similar interests. But don’t let it stop there. You need human interaction. You need to be able to spend time with these new friends. So find them in your town. They are everywhere … even in small towns. You just might have to look harder.

We found them through support groups who offered “training” classes for parents of special needs children. We found them sitting in the therapists and doctor’s office waiting room. We found them at parent/teacher meetings. We found them at Special Olympics events. We found them shopping at medical supply companies. We found them at the mall, pushing wheelchairs.

Victor Hugo, a French romantic poet, novelist, and dramatist (1802-1885) once said …

Life, misfortunes, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are battlefields which have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious heroes

True friends of those with special needs are the greatest heroes of all. Over the past two decades we have developed a set of REAL friends who now stand beside us and support us regardless of what life throws our way. They have changed our life for the better.


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