In the typical everyday world of raising typical everyday children most parenting is, “Good Enough.” It is a given that parenting a typical child is a very difficult task. It is also a given that while there are plenty of books on parenting they tend to simplify parenting or focus only on a period of development or a particular issue.
Another fact of life, and most of us do not like or want to admit it, is that we learn how to be parents by how we were raised. That is, our parents are our models. Some of us might say, “I am nothing like my parents! They were too strict, or lenient, or whatever! I do the opposite.” Well, in that case, the parents we had are still organizing how we are, or think we are as parents! (Remember this thought.)
The problem that emerges when we have a child with special needs is that, all of a sudden, everything we know, everything we dreamed about, everything we have learned to expect, is thrown out of sync. Suddenly, our child is not molding to us. In fact, does not even want to be touched. Suddenly, they are very, very active. It begins to dawn on us, our child is not sitting up, walking, talking, playing appropriately, and so on. What is wrong? What are we supposed to do?
Furthermore, parenting becomes ever more complex when a child has special needs. Clearly, the logistics in terms of evaluations and services can be overwhelming. But, for this conversation, what happens to those parents who no longer have their own parents (good or bad) as a model to parent a special needs child, emotionally. Depending on the diagnosis, and there can be a great deal of overlap, parents may no longer have the knowledge to understand what is happening to their child, developmentally. So much of our knowledge (conscious and unconscious) in our parenting styles is no longer useful.
What happens to the parent who, whether comfortable or not, is like own their parent, and now suddenly can’t be like their parent? What happens to the parent who does not want to be strict when they have a child with ADHD, where limits are more important? What happens to the parent-child interaction where a parent needs the emotional engagement of their child, but that child can’t engage emotionally in the typical manner? What happens in the parent-child interaction where the family expects, or requires, great intellectual achievements and the child has cognitive delays? Suddenly, there is a whole level of emotional struggles that each parent of a child with special needs has to accept. As the parent comes to terms with their feelings toward the special needs of their child, they will simultaneously work to gain the knowledge to help and understand their child. The point here is that sometimes what we commit to emotionally about being a better parent than our parent(s), is that the commitment to being different might conflict with the needs of the child.