I have often felt alone as a special needs parent.
It is a lonely journey. You spend most of your life ensuring that your child has the accommodations they need to live in a world that is often unaccepting of them. You do not have time for friends, community, or hobbies you once enjoyed.
As lonely as the journey is as a parent, I have often found it isolating to be on this journey as a father. That is because most of the support, parenting blogs, and guidance on being a special needs parent are from the mother’s perspective. There does not seem to be much concern for fathers on the journey, yet fathers should be valued and treated with equal respect and appreciation.
Society forgets special needs fathers exist.
I think two fundamental realities lead to society neglecting the experience of special needs fathers. For one, special needs families often need one parent to stay at home and not work to provide care and advocacy for their child. That is too often the case with the mother who stays home and provides this vital work. We are fortunate that my wife can work from home because we are not in a situation where both of us could work away from home. That reality enhances the focus on the mother’s experience because it is often the mother who is home with their special needs child.
As well, I think society diminishes the role and importance of fathers in a family. Through entertainment and cultural norms, we have made fathers out to be absent-minded, more concerned with jokes, or uninvolved in their child’s life. When society promotes these expectations and beliefs that fathers are unimportant or neglectful, it reduces the value deeply committed and engaged fathers play in their child’s life for support, encouragement, and mentoring.
Both of these fundamental realities, together, devalue the experience and perspective of fathers who are raising special needs children. As a result, fathers can often feel alone and have nowhere to turn to express their pain and frustration or to receive support on the journey. We are left to figure out what it means to be a special needs father for ourselves.
The truth is that special needs fathers go through the full slate of emotions in raising a special needs child.
I celebrate when my child can do even the most basic of life skills because they are massive leaps for him.
I get exhausted fighting the same institutional battles for access and accommodation at my child’s school and, yes, the church.
I feel like I am not doing enough when I cannot provide for our needs, get him into a good school, provide for his therapy needs, or make his life a little easier. I feel the weight of caring for him, our family, various extended family members, and my professional responsibilities.
I get overwhelmed.
Fathers often go through this alone, because they have no one to turn to for help or support. The feeling of loneliness on the journey leads to negative consequences, such as mental health issues, divorce, and job performance issues. That is because when a person has nowhere to go for help, they often internalize or bury their needs to where it gets expressed in equally unhealthy ways.
Special needs fathers need other fathers on the journey to help guide, mentor, and encourage them as they raise their children. We cannot do this on our own. We need each other.
And, we need society to accept that we play a crucial and fundamental role in our child’s life.
We are not jokes. We are fathers who are proud of our children, especially our special needs children. As such, we should not be forgotten or ignored.