It’s Hard to Be a Good Friend When You’re a Special Needs Mom

Being the parent of a child with complex needs is hard work. It’s often draining and exhausting. Like most humans on this earth, I crave social interaction. I desire meaningful relationships.

I, like my daughter with autism and bipolar disorder, want to have friends who understand me. I’ve known for years that my daughter’s “get along button is broken.” She can make friends just fine. Keeping and maintaining those friendships, however, is difficult for her.

I’m discovering that I’m more like her than I want to admit. In the past year, two of my very closest friendships have ended. I wish I knew what to do differently. Some of it, most of it, is beyond my control.

Since my daughter has more needs than her typically developing peers, we have to miss out on many events where I can foster those friendships. Just this spring, a dear friend of mine invited me to her son’s play. We bought tickets and looked forward to going. The morning of his play was a difficult one for my girl, so I contacted my friend and we stayed home.

My friend was gracious and understanding. From her viewpoint, us missing out was no fun as I’m sure she really wanted to see us. She was a proud mom and wanted us to celebrate her child’s success with her.

In April, my daughter had a brain tumor that required my full attention for several weeks. I had to miss out on supporting another friend who had foot surgery. I wanted so badly to be able to cook for her and take her to doctor’s appointments. It never happened. For that I am sad.

Still another friend had to go out of state to attend to her extended family. I really wanted to help her pack or bring her a care package. That didn’t happen either.

I am failing my friends.

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I’m not failing my daughter, though.

Often I am on the phone, attending doctor’s appointments, emailing my child’s teacher or figuring out insurance snafus. When my child is home, I cannot leave her unattended. Although she loves people, peopling can be exhausting for her so we adjust to her schedule and her needs.

I have been told that my focus is too narrow. I only talk about my kid. I’ve become something that I never wanted to be; one of those parents who talk incessantly about their children.

Here’s the thing though: If your child had cancer, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to save them? Wouldn’t you stop at nothing to find a cure? This little being who I love with every fiber of my being is depending on me to help her.

If I abandon her so that I can nurture my friendships, then I am a failure as a mother.

I’m sorry that I cannot be the kind of friend that my friends need me to be. I’m not sorry that getting my daughter launched for life leaves little time for anything else.

Society will pay for the alternative. If I don’t step up and become a warrior mom, my daughter will look elsewhere to get help. She could very easily end up as a pregnant teen or a drug addict. She could even end up committing suicide. My due diligence is to raise her up to be a productive member of society not one who is a detriment to it. Unfortunately, this requires more of me than the average mom.

I’m not going to stop trying to be a good friend. I just might not be able to be the kind of friend my friends wish I were.

If you’re a friend to a mom of a special needs child, please know that she’s grateful for your friendship even if she has trouble showing you that. She may never be able to reciprocate that friendship equally.

Thanks for understanding and for loving her in spite of this.

One thing that I have learned from my daughter after all of her failed friendships is to never give up. There might be someone just around the corner who I haven’t met yet.
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