Parents of Children with Special Needs: We Need Mentors Too

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
02/08/18  12:32 PM PST
Parents of Children with Special Needs

Parents of Children with Special Needs: We Need Mentors Too

The benefit of mentoring programs for children has long been established. Kids need role models—people older and outside the family circle who have walked the path they’ve walked and can help them along. But I’d argue that we parents, especially parents of children with special needs, need our mentors too. We need the empathy and the expertise.

It’s why new hires are often set up in mentoring programs in the workplace. You get someone who’s done your job to show you the ropes and answer the questions that your boss is too busy to handle. You need someone you can genuinely ask, “Where’s the cheapest good food around here?” and “What does casual Friday really mean?” Sometimes you don’t want expert advice, you just want someone on the inside you can trust.

Which is why, when my son came home from the hospital almost three months after he was born with a tracheotomy and oxygen and heartrate monitors, I didn’t want more training. I already had respiratory therapists and at-home nurses and video tutorials on infant CPR and all manner of manuals.

What I really wanted was a friend – someone experienced as a parent, not just a caretaker and physician, who could hold my hand a little as I practiced this mothering thing. I think all new parents want this. We want a friend who’s been there to tell us we’ll survive.

Two years later when my son was more stable, thriving even, and just when I thought I had the parenting thing down, my twins came along and brought with them a whole new slew of unanswered questions.

“Do I feed them at the same time or separately?”

“Should they sleep in the same crib?”

“How do I make sure my oldest is getting enough attention and also myself and also my husband, and, oh, did somebody remember to feed the dog?”

It was a lot. And these were things I wanted to ask a real human in real life whom I trusted who would also bring me coffee and hold a kid and tell me I was going to surface from this emergency state of parenting sooner rather than later and be stronger for it. And I found my people, my few trusted and respected friends farther down the road who calm me down and boost my spirits at the same time.

I’m no dummy. I know that I’m not out of the woods yet. As my kids age, I’m going to need more, rather than less, help for all the new things…the special needs that change with the seasons, the precarious family balance that is always shifting, the 401Ks and the college funds. I’m going to need serious intervention and I want a person (or many) around me whom I can mine for wisdom.

In ten years, I don’t want to find myself Googling “how to survive empty nest syndrome.” I want to phone a friend.

child with special needs

Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom, author and blogger.

Read her blog, The Mom Gene.

Follow her on Facebook.

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