Being a parent of a child with disabilities has made me good at engaging in conflict. Like, really good.
Actually, scratch that. It’s not that I’m good at conflict. It’s just that I realized I don't care about the consequences of confronting folks—especially when things aren't going our way. I’m OK with that.
This skill has served me well as Dominic’s parent. I’ve used it with his school, through IEPs and conversations with the district's Special Education Director. I've used it with his therapy facility and with doctors. I don’t mind disagreeing, and I don’t mind changing my stance on things. But if I believe something is wrong, I’m going to say it, and I’m going to do my best to get things to go my way.
The strangest part of it all? It’s therapeutic for me!
I find myself realizing how little control I have over the issues that might face my son. I can’t control what happens to him through the school day. I can’t control whether his doctors will consider his potential instead of his limitations. And those things bother me deeply. So, when I can exert some influence over an IEP meeting or lean on a doctor to sign paperwork that his staff said he was going to sign a few weeks back, it’s healthy. It’s a great outlet.
One of the pieces of advice I have for new parents of children with disabilities: Get that backbone in shape. Develop that gumption. Not only for the benefit of your child, but also for your benefit.
Issues of disagreement are rarely personal. But at the same time, when they’re about my kid they’re deeply personal. That balance of personal and impersonal sets up opportunities where even the most minor of issues is a chance for me to defend my son.
Don’t fear conflict. Embrace it. It is part of your life now and your ability to successfully navigate through it will make a huge difference in your child’s life. But more than just embracing it…learn to enjoy it. It’s a productive outlet for some of the larger frustrations that you’ll deal with.
Gumption isn’t a bad thing. My son made me a better person by making me grow. I love him for that.