Sometimes the most well-intentioned comments, statements, or inquiries can offend parents of children with disabilities. You may think you’re being nice and helpful, but you may end up hurting someone’s feelings instead.
Historically, the wicked, evil step-mother with the long, crooked wart nosed face, plagued the lives of many children. Let’s not forget the sinister step-father with that detached, serial-killer like persona.
Step mothers and fathers have ruined the lives of many children for years.
Notorious crimes include:
1. Murderers of love: they single handedly destroyed a happy home.
2. Lack of compassion and understanding: because their alien leaders sent them here without proper training, they don’t understand alone-time needed with parents. Actually, they don’t understand any human emotions.
3. Parent Imposters: how dare they think they should have a say in child-rearing? They don’t really care anyway.
4. Professional Crooks: they plot to overtake the family’s entire inheritance. Their number one goal is to send the intrusive children into exile.
5. Dictators with evil plots of Totalitarianism: they just think they can come into a child's life and take over everything.
There are numerous crimes that step-parents have been allegedly charged with, but these are the most common ones. I myself recall a few run-ins with step-dad issues, but none of them led me to believe that all step-parents are from the dark side. But this post isn’t about the negative myths that come with step-parenthood. It’s about honoring the step-moms and dads that have stepped up beyond the call of their duty, because it was driven by love.
As a woman lucky enough to have married one of those step-dads, I've taken a few pointers from my husband's (Kirk a.k.a. Richie’s step-dad) book on how to connect and build a loving relationship with a child with a disability:
1. Learn about the disability: In order to connect with and understand your step-child, you’re going to need to do some research. It’s important to get information from your spouse or partner, but it’s also important to do some research on your own. If you plan to be a family, you’ll need to learn about how you can help, become part of the team, and be as supportive as possible. * My husband and I worked together at an agency that serves parents and children with disabilities. Lucky for him, he had instant access to all sorts of information on children with disabilities and relationship building. He even had the wonderful opportunity of attending a workshop session hosted by W.C. Hoecke on Father Involvement (W.C. is a brilliant trainer who shares his experiences on being a dad of a child with a disability). http://www.familyconnectionsc.org/meet-the-staff.html
2. Patience is key: This is an absolute must when dealing with step-children, disability or not. It’s easy to see all the wrong in how your partner’s child is behaving. But trying to understand all aspects of the undesired behavior (the who, what, when, where, and why) will assist with dealing with it appropriately. Assess the scenario, think about what’s happening around the child at the time the undesirable behavior is taking place. Who’s in the room? What is the climate of the room? Is everyone in a bad mood? When a child exhibits undesirable behavior, it’s important for the step-parent to be part of the solution. If you have something constructive and supportive to contribute, say it to your partner first. Resist offering suggestions for disciplinary action in front of the child. Please don't assume a child with a disability knows nothing of what you discuss in front of them. * Kirk would always make suggestions for teaching my son late at night when we talked about our day.
3. Sensitivity and Understanding: Try to be extra conscious of your step-child’s dignity and uphold their integrity at all times. It’s important to make sure the child feels comfortable, safe, and that he or she is allowed to be themselves in their home. *Kirk is always conscious of Richie’s feelings. For the longest time, I took Richie with me into the public ladies restroom during outings. After Richie reached a certain age, Kirk began to offer taking him to the men’s restroom with his younger son, Tiki.
Richie moans loudly and repeats the same phrases (he fixates on movie scenes or songs) over and over again, sometime for hours at a time, and it doesn't faze Kirk. Richie will run back and forth throughout the house, and we all just let him be. It’s important for all children to be themselves at home.
4. Be Supportive: It’s easy to lead separate roads of responsibility when it comes to blended families. Some people develop a “Your child- your responsibility” mentality. Sometimes it happens naturally without anyone realizing it. It’s so important to jump in and help each other– especially with the tough tasks. Offer your help even when it isn't asked of you (it means so much to your spouse/partner when you do this). Offer to go to doctors appointments, meetings, or take your step-child to the park with your child(ren), even if it might be a little more work. *Kirk has gone to more appointments with me for Richie than I can count. It means so much that I can count on him, more importantly that Richie can count on him.
There are no infinite words of wisdom described in the long list of scholarly or philosophical publications to guide us with these important matters. There are no marital vows that guarantee the love of a step-parent will be unwavering and true.
When it comes to loving a child with a disability, many others might head for the hills, as nature compels people to fear what they don’ t understand. However, this post is about extraordinary people with benevolent souls.
Home and family life is anything but easy, things won’t always go smoothly, and perfection has no place in defining everyday living. Having family members who work hard to adopt these virtues and values is a gift to be cherished. I cherish mine every day. I learned at a young age, that relationships are fragile. Whether marital, family, friendly, or professional, all relationships are like pieces of thread. Some threads, when tested, break easily. Some threads surprise you with their incredible durability, flexibility, and strength. Kirk surprises us still, as he is the strongest piece of thread we’ve ever known.
© 2015 Sensory Friends
Author: Christine Goulbourne