Last year, Hannah Bee hosted its first support group for parents of children of disabilities at the NH Church in Phakalane. We were thrilled to have this opportunity to meet such an amazing group of special parents. In that first meeting, each parent was given an opportunity to share their story. What a wonderful experience it was for all who attended to share this time with like-minded people.
Why Do You Need A Support Group
“When your child is diagnosed with an illness or disability, it can feel like the world is crashing down around you.” Sherry R. Latson writes in the Learning Disabilities Association of America, “Parenting is particularly difficult and stressful when a child is diagnosed with an illness or disability. All of the attention is focused on helping the child but parents also need assistance in coping with their own feelings and frustrations.”
What Is A Support Group
Support groups often share experiences and advice that can bring healing to the mind, body and spirit. They can offer a forum to meet and network with others sharing the same challenges.
Although support and self-help groups can vary greatly, all groups share one thing in common—they are places where people can share personal stories, express emotions, and be heard in an atmosphere of acceptance, understanding, and encouragement. Participants share information and resources. By helping others, people in a support group strengthen and empower themselves.
The Benefits Of A Support Group
Being a parent of a special needs child can be an isolating experience, but it doesn’t have to be. The benefits of joining a support group whether traditional or virtual are innumerable and can be tremendous source of strength, comfort, and healing. Here are a few ways how:
1. You realise you are not alone– When your child is not developing at the same rate as the other children around them, it limits those play dates that usually double as much-needed adult time. Joining a support group allows you to meet people with children and circumstances similar to yours. I remember joining a playgroup and realising that my daughter was so noticeably behind in her milestones… while every other parent was celebrating their child rolling, crawling, walking… I was just happy my baby was learning to swallow… I struggled to find common ground.
2. Share your frustrations– Sometimes any and everything will frustrate you…doctors, nurses, your parents, your spouse, siblings, the cashier at the store. You also can become frustrated with yourself or with the lack of progress in your child. There are some days that you can be frustrated simply just because! Joining a support group allows you to share your feelings with people who understand because they have had very similar frustrations.
3. Learn additional coping skills– In the beginning of any new and difficult journey and/or at any point during your journey, the totality of the situation can hit you like a bolt of thunder. You can have a myriad of emotions and feelings ranging from despair to anger to hopelessness. Again, you are not alone in this, but the good news is when you are a part of a support group you can hear/read how others have dealt with the same feelings and try various coping skills to help you overcome your personal feelings.
4. Get feedback and suggestions– The great thing about support groups is the amount of feedback that you are able to get from parents who have “been there, done that” and from those who are trying to figure it out with you. Those who are in support groups are not doctors, and should never take the place of your doctors, but do not underestimate the power of home remedies! It’s amazing as parents how we modify and adapt things to our children’s needs and the sharing of these remedies and adaptations has really come in handy with my own daughter.
5. Helping others helps you too– When you are new to your situation, you really join groups looking for assistance, an ear to hear, support, etc. But eventually, once you hop over a couple of hurdles, you are in a position to give advice, a listening ear, and words of comfort to others. In addition, being on the giving end of information really gives you a feeling of accomplishment. You have endured enough to help someone else!
6. Reduces stress– Being able to ask other parents about their experiences and their version of “normal” can be a tremendous stress reliever when your new “normal” is not necessarily the “normal” for other kids.
7. Additional resources and information– Again, support groups are filled with those who are currently, or have been, where you are. If you are a part of a traditional support group, there may be another parent that can provide information about resources that were helpful for them. You do not know what you do not know and when other parents share how they obtained resources and assistance, it may prompt you to find resources you were looking for as well.
8. Make connections– You never know where friendships can be forged. Some people enter your life for a moment when you need them the most and others enter for a life time. The thing is, you never know between the two. I have made a long-time friend from meeting a mom introduced to me by our doctors. Our children both had intestinal issues and she helped me tremendously to get through a really difficult phase. We would probably have never connected or been introduced for any other reason. Everyone may not have the same long-term friendship, but while you are on your journey, no matter how long you have been on it, support groups are a great way to connect and share.
9. Gain strength– Being a special needs parent can deplete every fiber of mental (and sometimes physical) strength that you thought you had. Being a part of a support group provides strength to you regardless of where you are in your journey. When you are new on the scene, you gain strength from those who share the victories. When you are a little more seasoned, you gain strength from those you are able to help. One of the best parts of a support group is that you always have a group of cheerleaders to remind you of how far you have come and how far you can go… they remind you not to give up and that you indeed are an exceptional parent!
10. You can get a good laugh– There are just some jokes that only another special needs parent can tell and/or understand. Sometimes those laughs can make all the difference in the world.
11. You have understood “bragging rights”– When your child accomplishes anything you have a place to go that celebrates with you. This is not to say that your friends and family are not happy for your child. However, you do not have to explain to your support group over and over again why this accomplishment means so much. They understand!!
How Can You Join
Although Hannah Bee’s primary goal is to raise Cerebral Palsy Awareness, we recognise that there are similar challenges in parenting a child with any disability or illness. Therefore, the group is open to parents of children with disabilities.
What To Look Forward To In 2020
We are so excited for this year’s meetings. We have a professional team comprising of registered counsellors, physical, occupational and speech therapists who have graciously donated their time and will use their knowledge to empower us as parents. We hope to see you there!