HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND NOT ALIENATE PEOPLE

Maintaining meaningful friendships can be hard. It gets harder when you have kids because our children become the center of our universe. By default we hang out with the parents of our kids’ friends. And when you have a child with a disability, it can be next to impossible to socialize, as I explored recently here: https://centerforfamilyinvolvementblog.org/2016/09/29/how-to-lose-friends-and-alienate-people/

So how are your friendships holding up? Do you find yourself gravitating toward others who truly get what you’re going through?

The moment you discover your child has a disability, you become part of a tribe – a group of people who, just by glancing at you, understand. They’ve dealt with that guilt-ridden devastation you feel when you were supposed to be elated at the arrival of a new baby. Their life trajectory was completely, unexpectedly rerouted without warning, just like you. They’re cycling through the stages of grief over and over again for a child who is alive and well; who they adore and cherish – just like you.

Don’t get me wrong; I adore ALL of my friends. But it is such a relief to have coffee with someone who knows what a nightmare even the easy IEP meetings are. It’s fun chatting with a parent who can recite more medical, legal, and school jargon than you. The friend who knows how to fire their child’s lousy new attendant on the spot is your new role model. The acquaintance you exchange an hour of texts with while you’re both stuck in yet another waiting room might as well be your sister.

It is a beautiful thing to be in the company of those who know what you’re feeling with just that simple glance…

That kind nod or offer of help in a grocery store from a parent who understands that meltdown has nothing to do with parenting skills and everything to do with sensory issues.

That moment in a parking lot when a dad stops to introduce his son to your son because they share the same special chromosomal make-up.

That fist bump you give to a fellow mom because her daughter was able to say ‘thank you’ clearly and without prompting.

That random, cathartic cry you share on the sidewalk when everything just feels like too much.

The exchange of a sly smirk at new mom who is complaining that she’s overwhelmed. Not that her feelings aren’t valid; but because a new word should be created for your versions of overwhelmed.

We’re part of a very exclusive club. We have each other’s backs. We understand these unique struggles. We are kindred spirits. Our friendships come very naturally. The bond is immediate. Political and ideological differences don’t matter that much because the tie that binds is disability. That’s often the only thing we talk about.

And that is precisely we cannot neglect our other friendships: The people who have been in our lives longer than our kids and the ones who have become our friends because of or despite them. The ones who mean well but stick their foot in their mouth from time to time when it comes to disability. The people who will never know what you’re going through, but will always try to understand.

When you hang out with those friends, you might mention that IEP meeting or something else related to disability, but the conversation won’t keep drifting back to it. You’re bonded by your interests and passions. You talk about everything from politics to pop culture. They remind you there’s more going on in the world than that disability bubble we sometimes live in. And you help give them empathy and a better understanding of how the world needs to change to accept those who are differently-abled.

But hopefully when you are with these friends you can forget all of that.

These are the friends who will remind you of the vivacious person you were “before.”

These are the friends who will loan you really good books that have nothing to do with disability and introduce you to the latest television show you didn’t realize was “must see.”

These are the friends who will remind you there are other causes to care about and help you get involved in whatever small way you can.

These are the friends who will drag you to a new restaurant even though you’d rather be in bed. And you’ll thank them the next day while yawning over your third cup of coffee.

These are the friends you exchange novel-length emails with about mundane things like organizing your home with Marie Kondo methods and what you ate at brunch last week. And those are the first emails you read and respond to ever single time you open your inbox because they bring you so much joy.

These are the friends who are happy to see you when you have time and don’t mind waiting months for that to happen.

All of our friendships are important. All of these relationships need to be nurtured because they enhance our lives in such important ways. And while we may want and need to crawl in a hole sometimes, we also need to put some effort into keeping those we love in our lives.

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