I sit listening to the giggles and imagination play from across the room. My granddaughter, Miss Emmy, and Danny Boy (my youngest son who has special needs) are playing. I can hear the exchange of ideas between the two of them. As I peek around my desk, I see Emmy pick up a toy Danny dropped and hand it back to him, without skipping a beat in her conversation. Danny continues to play as well; it’s as if they both are oblivious to the inconvenience of Danny’s limitations.
Danny has DMD. He is unable to get around very well. He often sleeps 15+ hours a day. At home, Danny spends most of his day sitting with his brothers or laying in bed. He has difficulty playing with others for more reasons than just his physical limitations.
It’s hard for Danny to trust other children won’t run him down, leave him behind, or race to take a toy away when they see he’s heading towards it. He has gone through multiple surgeries and experiences that have created a “say no first attitude.”
Danny has a few sweet friendships with children who took the time to slow down and see past Danny’s fears and limitations. Miss Emmy just happens to be one of those children. She is often the first person he asks for when he wakes up.
Miss Emmy has grown up around Danny, so she instinctively knows to pick things up for him or tell a grown-up when Danny needs help. She’s learned she can’t bump into Danny or he’ll fall over so, for the most part, Emmy plays gently around him (there are times she gets excited and forgets, but those moments are rare.)
Emmy’s learned that “it’s not all about winning” as she now tells other children. She often lets Danny win not because she feels sorry for him, but because friends help friends win in life- that’s what friendship is all about.
Emmy’s learned that friends hold friends accountable, and friends forgive.
Friends are there to encourage you to keep trying.
Friends celebrate your best without comparison to someone else’s best.
We could all learn a great deal from Danny and Miss Emmy’s friendship.
Have you ever wanted to be a friend to a woman who had a child with special needs?
Maybe you already have a friend like this, and you just feel confused by some of her responses (perhaps even a bit hurt).
Let’s face it. Friendships can be challenging no matter how old we get or what circumstances we face. Most of us learn friendship etiquette from our earliest childhood experiences. We learn to share, speak kindly, listen well, help others, forgive, and the list goes on.
We may even learn how to be a friend through times of grief, but few of us have the opportunity to be a friend to someone who faces daily obstacles as they maneuver through the routine tasks of the day. Maybe that’s why our friendships with moms who have special needs children are as tricky for us as they are for our children.
Do you ever wonder how you can be a friend to your friend who has a special needs child?
As I sit watching Danny play with Miss Emmy, I realize how much we can learn about the friendships we have with others who see and experience “normal” different than we do.
I compare their friendship to what it would be like to watch two children from different countries and cultures trying to communicate. If you’ve ever had a friend, who has a child with special needs, you might feel the same way.
It’s not just the fact that you’ve had to google medical terms she used in conversations like you should understand what it meant. It’s all the other things too; her parenting is different than your’s, her schedule, her meals, her vacations, all of it seems different than your experiences. It’s as if one of you speak French and the other speaks Italian.
As a mom of a special needs child, I thought I would share five lessons we can learn and apply from observing Miss Emmy and Danny Boy’s friendship. I hope they are a blessing to you as you navigate your friendships with women who also happen to be moms of special needs children.
5 Lessons We Can Learn From A Childhood Friendship
- Slow down- When it comes to friendships, mom’s who have children with special needs have similar hesitations to Danny. They don’t want to be run over or left behind. And don’t think they haven’t had it happen before. They have good reason to be guarded. They have been put under a microscope and critiqued by others often. Many of them have learned to have a “no first” response because honestly, it’s just safer and less drama when they do. So slow down and let them say no first and then wait and try again, and again, and again.
- Friends help friends win. I’ve witnessed Emmy set Danny up for success more times than I can count, but it’s not one-sided. Danny is the first to advocate for Emmy when he believes she is misunderstood. Healthy friendships should always cheer each other on to win.
- Friends know “it’s not all about winning.” Emmy is very competitive, and for a good reason, she’s smart, quick, and exceeds the ability of most children her age. It would be easy for her to be self-centered and consumed with the idea of winning, but instead, her mommy keeps teaching her, “it’s not all about winning.” Emmy has learned that coming in first isn’t always winning. So how can we apply this to our friendships? Well, we need to know that while we may be very capable, smart, quick and successful, it doesn’t mean we have all the answers for our friends. Sometimes winning in these situations is just listening.
- Friends hold each other accountable All healthy relationships need accountability. Not the judgemental kind of accountability, but the grace-filled accountability. Be careful when you offer accountability. Make sure you speak in love to inspire hope, not in pride to justify your ideas.
- Friends forgive. All friendships need forgiveness as they grow and mature. Moms who have special needs children are no different; they need your forgiveness as well.
All friendships take time to grow and mature.
Laughter, support, and love are the rewards when we give friendships the time they need. Don’t give up being a friend to your friend who has a special needs child. I know it’s not easy and it can feel like you’re speaking two different languages, but the truth is you both have a lot to offer each other.
Friendship etiquette goes both ways. Next week, we’re going to tackle the topic of how to be a friend to your friend who doesn’t have a child with special needs.
Until our next chat,