Maybe it’s the beginning of a new school year, with all three girls settling into their respective routines. Maybe it was watching them all learn and grow together over the summer, so close in age, so unique in personality. Maybe it’s just the awareness that over time, each will forge their own path. And while two will very likely find their own way, one will likely struggle to find a safe independence. Once again I found myself thinking of the future and friendships, and what that might look like.
Through my kitchen window, I watched the girls play with friends in the back yard. Because they are so close in age, their friendship circles have often overlapped. What a gift this has been! Ages and stages have blended together to create inclusive fun for all. But as I watched them dash here and there, it was clear that Kezia wasn’t always sure where she fit in. Couldn’t always keep up. Didn’t always understand the ever-fluctuating rules of the game. And I mused out loud to Jon, “I wonder how long this will last, this inclusiveness, before the oldest and the youngest find their own social circles, and Kezia will have to find her own as well.”
Because I’ve seen it starting to happen. And I know it is a part of this journey. And I know that it will hurt.
One of the very first things that crosses a parent’s mind when their child is born with a disability is the haunting question: “Will my child go through life alone?” Those very first tears are fears of the future, concerns of fitting in, finding that personal niche in life, complete with friends and fulfilling work and fun.
So far, it has been our experience that if there is a safe, supportive adult around to help provide some direction, Kezia’s friendships flourish. In her circle in school, so far, she has been able to cultivate connections that are just for her. Not friends of her sisters, or forced arrangements. This is only one gift that a safe, supportive school environment has provided for her. (And please note, not all school environments are safe or supportive. Ours has been, and it is a huge blessing, but not all are.) And, my prayer is, that there will always be that special someone that has a heart for inclusion. Or is in need of the funny, spunky, quirky friendship that Kezia provides! As ages and stages shift, I am not sure what that might look like.
A few years ago, I read a book that discussed the nature of friendships between children with and without special needs. In the opinion of the writer, the single most detrimental factor to those friendships was placing unrealistic expectations on the person without special needs to assist the person with special needs. In short, the child without special needs was not allowed to be a child, but was expected to act like the responsible adult in the situation. Whereas these relationships would have flourished in their own way, the undue strain became a barrier to a beautiful friendship.
You can read “Delicate Threads” Friendships Between Children With and Without Special Needs In Inclusive Settings” through Amazon. It’s not easy breezy reading material, for sure, and I could only digest it in bits and pieces at a time. But it touches on a very real concern for parents of children with special needs.
However, it has also caused me to reflect how much pressure and responsibility each sister needs to carry. If friendships are strained by unrealistic expectations, how much more aware and sensitive I need to be about how much pressure Kezia’s sisters may feel to take care of her. My hope is that we are cultivating an atmosphere of respect toward each other and understand that each of us has a special role to fill in this family; that we stand up for each other and educate others to do the same. At the same time, my prayer is that each girl doesn’t feel the need to “parent” – to fill that role that Jon and I have been given.
As the seasons and stages come and go, each with their particular blessings and challenges, I am praying that we will find our way through this as well. For the present, we have beautiful people in our life that seem to take us as we are, strengths and weaknesses and all :). There are friends that we are growing up with that seem to take our similarities ands differences in stride. We are thankful.