Being a parent of a special needs child is not an easy task. For instance, in Nigeria, there are so many hurdles that the parents have to overcome, like stigmatisation in the community, financial implications of caring for a child with special needs, physical and mental stress.
In spite of all these challenges, I wish to reiterate that the burden of special needs parenting should not lie solely on the shoulders of the mother.
Parenting involves a parent bringing up a child. Where both parents are alive, this upbringing should be their collective responsibility.
There are some people who believe that the mother caused the child’s disability and she should handle the situation by herself. In some cases, the father does not want their relatives or neighbours to know that they have a child with a disability, because the discovery will taint their public image.
Sometimes, the couple are in denial about their child’s medical condition and they continue to hide the child until the child’s case becomes serious. Oftentimes, the mother is the one who bears the burden of handling the situation.
The mother has to search for the right medical team, therapists, the right school that will accept the child, and sometimes resign from her job to take care of her special needs child.
The experience of caring for a special needs child, alone, can make a once-vibrant woman go into depression. Women who have the support of their partners also experience physical and mental stress. However, with the right support, they can overcome the initial shock of getting their children’s diagnosis and begin to seek for the right medical intervention for them.
In cases where extended families attribute the birth of a special needs child to a sin committed by the mother of the child, then the father should rise to the occasion and defend his wife. It is suicidal to care for a special needs child and at the same time fight unnecessary battles on the home front.
A mother of a child with disability needs to be told by her partner that he is there for her and the child. He needs to help her overcome guilt, shame and fear of what the future holds.
In a case where both parents do not know how to navigate this emotional turmoil, then they should seek for help from therapists. This is because, as the saying goes, ‘You cannot give what you do not have.’ The parents need to take care of themselves so that they can take care of their children.
Parenting a child with special needs is not a death sentence and it doesn’t have to be the end of a marriage or relationship.
Where parents come together to face one of life’s challenges such as parenting a special needs child, the burden is shared and it becomes lighter for both parties to bear. When one person is emotionally low, the other will help him or her to gain strength and rise again.
A word for single mums with special needs children –Build your support system. This includes family members, friends, neighbours, caregivers, therapists, support groups for families with special needs children, school and classroom teachers. This journey is made easier with the right support team for you and your child.
As the world commemorates the Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month every March 25, let’s put a stop to stigmatisation of families who have children with special needs. Let’s support a mother who has a special needs child and make the burden lighter for her to bear.
Ms Ayinde, lawyer, disability inclusion advocate and life coach, is the founder of Diary of a Special Needs Mum Initiative, under P4:13 Foundation