With the summer approaching, many parents have spent the last few months planning activities for their children. Some families choose to send their children to camp or specialized programs. Finding appropriate activities can be especially difficult for parents of children recently diagnosed with any special need. Parents should not feel as though they are going through the process alone, however, because there are probably mothers and fathers in the community who are eager to help.
My dissertation research, which involved interviewing Jewish mothers and fathers of children with autism, has revealed that these parents draw strength from and find meaning in helping one another.
One mother talked about how her religious beliefs had inspired and taught her the importance of “paying it forward” and guiding other parents of children recently diagnosed with autism:
“When I do see a mom with a young child with autism I try to get her email. I try to mentor her. The new ones. Give them ideas and tell them what they need to do. No need for anybody to reinvent the wheel”.
Another mother I talked to said helping others made her feel better about herself as a parent:
“It gives me sort of confidence in all that I have accomplished with my daughter so I don’t get as bent out of shape about certain things that I might have before. I have kind of come up to families along the way whose child is younger than mine and/or they are new to town and I can say these are the agencies that we have used, this is where you can bring your child for respite. You should definitely check out the YMCA, they definitely want to help our children with special needs.
Just trying to help them navigate. Then they say ‘Wow, I am so glad you told me about that. Thank you’ It gives me comfort to say ‘Wow, I guess I really do know something and I can help other people.’ I can sort of turn the situation that we have been handed in our family and say, ‘Well, there are people that we can help, so maybe it won’t be as hard for them.’ Other people did that for me and I definitely see that as a very Jewish way.”
Judaism emphasizes the importance of helping others. Parents of older children with special needs can guide mothers and fathers who have just started this new role. Passing on special tips, positive experiences, and challenging encounters will allow new mothers and fathers to learn from their trials and tribulations. Both groups of parents will feel a sense of solidarity as they share this process and work together to provide their child with the best possible experiences.
Frances Victory is a Developmental Psychology PhD candidate at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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