Many years ago when I first started working with mentally challenged individuals one of the things I talked to the parents about was to think about their children’s future and consider a transition into placement. Since I hadn’t ever been personally involved with this issue, I never thought about the emotions that surround this move. I had been on the other side where a parent had left a helpless adult child and saw the disparities in the adjustment time with many individuals. It is hard when we as parents devote our lives to raising a child, and have to face these facts.
Our lives do not last forever, as much as we want them to. As a parent we want our children to have the best we can offer during both of our lives. An equally despairing feature is losing a child to an untimely death, a plan none would ever plan for. This is similar to what a parent feels to have to find a suitable home for their child, losing touch with someone our lives have rotated around for many years.
When I first started building my family many would ask me if I wanted a boy or girl. It didn’t matter to me a whole lot; I never gave it much thought. I wanted a healthy child I would say, and that I felt was all I could really ask for. With my first child, a daughter, that was what I was blessed with. I bragged about my new baby girl, a nice little ten pound package. Finally someone pointed out to me a baby that size wasn’t little, but she still was to me. We showered her with all the love and devotion a parent could offer. The thought of any other lifestyle seemed oblivious to us.
With my second child four years later we were asked if we wanted tests done to insure a healthy baby and we declined. One thought was toward how one could halt a new life. Another thought was it could never happen to us, we were so scientific with staying healthy nothing could ever happen to this new child. We had watched that first baby grow above and beyond normal standards.
One night in the fifth month of my wife’s pregnancy I woke up feeling wet and uncomfortable. I got up and to my horror we were laying in a large pool of blood and huge blood clots. I woke her up and had her go and get cleaned up so we could go to the hospital, calling her mother to come over and babysit. I went through the large clots feeling for a baby, almost expecting to find our child. I was glad when I didn’t, but kept this to myself. It was already alarming with what was already going on.
When we got to the hospital we found out the placenta had torn loose from the abdominal wall. It had not terminated the pregnancy, but would require bed rest for the duration. This was the first time I worried about what kind of child I might have. I felt we were educated individuals with good careers who could face any challenge. Then I remembered talking with a few parents with special needs children, who had let the stress disrupt their relationship. While this seemed a bit selfish to me, my reaction was what they felt this child was supposed to feel and understand. Even with normally developed children, too many people give up on a beautiful life together, unable to see how they could solve a problem they feel can’t be repaired.
When the time came for the birth I was too excited to even worry about the child’s health. It was a magic moment many are blessed to be part of. I had driven the route to the hospital many times, wanting to know how long it was going to take me at different times of the day. The hours to wait were similar to my first time and I made sure comfort was offered the best I could. As that magic moment neared I was more concerned with the fact we had chosen a girl’s name, but not one for a boy. I kept shouting it past my wife until I could see I wasn’t scoring any points. Later one of the most beautiful little girls was born, complete with ten toes and fingers. She was the charm in my life and I quickly forgot about all the stress we had went through to approach this moment. I had another beautiful daughter, and was a very proud parent.
All of us have approached this part of our life becoming a parent. As a caretaker and teacher of mentally challenged children and adults, I often was given a variety of family problems to negotiate with. It hasn’t been until this last decade of seeing so many failing families that I began questioning if divorce was just giving up or an easy way out of a situation one had tired of. Many states have even developed a buffer period to make sure both parties really wanted to go through with the proceedings. I know problems would arise that are hard to solve. I feel if love was really there we should try our hardest to use it and make our relationship stronger not weaker. There really isn’t a problem that we can’t resolve and solve if we use all of our means available. This doesn’t seem to work with many marriages. The problem is did we think of our children when we made these decisions, or just ourselves?
When other problems arise, how do we cope with it? Is it always going to be our best directive to maintain our role as a parent or can we allow our children to become adults on their own? After devoting our lives to our children’s welfare when do we stop? This is hard decision for any parent, but even harder for one with a special needs child. After giving it all you can do for them it has to be hard to choose another group to do the same. For many it has been hard to let go of that relationship where you have always been in charge. I know the feeling when still wanting to be a big part of my adult children’s life. I can still hear my oldest telling me someone was only treating her as a child, but in my heart she always will be.
So now I look around me and think back when I first told parents they needed to look at their child’s future. I laugh at how I sometimes bristled when I was first met with negativity. I felt as if I was doing as I should, as perhaps the parents I was addressing were feeling the same. How could a person who had only experienced a part of their lives be able to tell them how it should be? For those who listened and made the decisions I applaud them. Now at this point of my life I hope I don’t step on too many feelings. Working with a number of sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, I see the love that is still there. They are still within a family, an extended family, one with many unrelated participants helping to maintain their child’s needs and aspirations. Care is taken to ensure the best for these individuals and they live a quality life as their parents would always want. This makes me very happy to enrich and enjoy the lives of others.