Circle of Friends

Each person develops a circle of friends throughout their lifetime. Friendships are formed through our personal interactions. These may stem from our childhood, our neighborhood, our workplace, our church or from a variety of other sources. We select our friends based on our common value-system, interests and world view. Over time, friends are added and removed from our circle. It is a natural occurrence that we mostly take for granted.

As a parent of a special needs child, we develop a unique circle of friends. Many of our friends are parents of other special-needs children that may be our child’s friend or participate with our child in any number of activities. You might also create a circle of friends surrounding your advocacy for a cause that you care deeply about.

For the past two decades, my wife Kathy and I have developed a number of these circles. Today I would like to address just one … the Special Needs Parent Circle.

Many children with special needs are challenged with social and interpersonal relationships. They have difficulty establishing close and meaningful friendships and often struggle to maintain them. We’ve learned that most of these kids develop friendships through school, sports, or other special activities. And in many cases, the parents of the kids meet one another as they attend these events.

Sometimes that meeting results in a closer friendship among the parents. I’ve found that when you befriend the parent(s) of your child’s friend, a special bond is created. This is probably because you are walking a similar life path. And that commonality lets you share information and anxieties. Unlike your relationships in other circle of friends, these people can relate! And together you can represent a formidable unified voice when school or other issues don’t meet your kid’s needs or your expectations. And you can even share caregiving, providing the other family with much-needed respite. And we’ve found that when the families bond, the underlying friendship of the kids grows ever-stronger.

Sometimes that meeting results in nothing between the parents. There are many reasons why this happens. You may have a dissimilar world view. You may find that these adults don’t share your value system or morals. You may not respect their decision-making or even their parenting style. But whatever the reason, you don’t form a bond. We’ve discovered that when this happens, the underlying friendship of your child and their friend may suffer.

It seems clear to me that establishing a circle of friends that includes other special-needs parents adds real value for your child and their social skills development. But there can be a dark side as well.

What if you end a relationship with their friend’s parents? The most challenging element facing special-needs parents who are friends comes if/when that friendship comes to an end. Does it also spell the end of the children’s friendship? I’ve found the answer lies in the manner in which the parents end their friendship. If the friendship ends because the individuals drift apart (new/different interests, moving from the neighborhood, etc) then the kid’s friendship can continue. But if the parents friendship breaks down because of a disagreement, then maintaining the kid’s relationship becomes nearly impossible. And that’s a shame because it isn’t the child’s fault, yet they can lose a good friend in the process! This has happened to us. And while we feel bad about it, it was unavoidable.

Have you developed a circle of friends that includes other special-needs parents? Have you found that these relationships are of value? Have you lost any of those friends? If that happened, what was the impact on the kids?

My hope is that this insight somehow helps you be a better parent and helps you empower your children to build and nurture their own circle of friends.



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