We have all heard that it “takes a village” to raise a child. But what happens when you have to build that village yourself? Where should you begin?
When my daughter was diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome called Williams Syndrome, I needed to learn how to navigate a new world of early intervention. I was already overwhelmed as the mother of two preschool-age children with a challenging career. Not only did I not know the answers to many of my questions, I did not even know where to look for answers. I needed help, and fast.
I started the way I would begin any new project – with research. I began on the internet, looking for support groups and any local and state resources that may be helpful. I sent many emails to folks I did not know; most responded immediately and were incredibly generous with their time and expertise. I soon realized I needed to build a support system that is a combination of the professional and personal.
Gather experts that know the system, know the program, know your child, and then rely on their expertise. We are fortunate in Pennsylvania to have myriad free resources that are available to help support your family, but it’s not always easy to find out about how to access them. If you have a trusted teacher or therapist, ask them what resources are available, and then call or email those contacts. I was amazed at how responsive the folks in Harrisburg were to my questions. I also participated in an incredible free training program through Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities, which connected me with a network of professionals that could help my child.
But you also need personal support, especially other parents traveling a similar path. These people may be at your preschool, your church or synagogue, neighbors, or moms you connect with online. Because my daughter has a rare diagnosis, Facebook has been an invaluable resource. I was able to connect with other moms who understood exactly what I was going through, and who could offer reliable advice and support. And these virtual friends have become “real life” friends, some of the most meaningful and supportive relationships in my life.
In fact, I asked some of my fellow mamas for their best advice – how they knew they needed more support, and how they built their own support network. Here is what they said:
- “I realized I needed more support when anger began to undermine my primary parenting goal, that my children should always feel loved and secure at home and know that they are worthy of kindness especially in their dark moments.”
- “Connect…connect…connect! Find a small group of people that get it so that you don’t feel so alone; it’s so important to know you have someone whose been there done that and that you can feel comfortable reaching out to for support.”
- “First and foremost, I cannot stress how beneficial it has been to have confidants who are going through a similar experience. It’s the club I never wanted to be a part of but I am so glad to be a member now.”
Remember, YOU are the expert on your child, YOU are their first teacher and YOU are their most important advocate. If you don’t have the support that you need, you can’t possibly meet your child’s needs. Reach out and connect, there are many teachers, professionals and fellow parents just waiting to support you.
– Melissa Murphy, Wynnewood, PA. Many thanks to Jamie Burden, Erin Putman and Erin Rupolo for their valuable input.
Do you know of other resources or tips you’d like to share? Add a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Pennsylvania offers Early Intervention services for free to all eligible children. Early Intervention provides specialized services to children from birth to age five with developmental delays or disabilities and their families. The services will vary by each child depending on your child’s needs, and may take place in the home, in a child care program, or other setting. Call the CONNECT hotline at 1-800-692-7288 to get started.
- Check out What’s Happening in Your County page for listings of other parent support groups in your community.
- Links to Parenting and Family Support Programs (PA Family Support Alliance). Links to affiliate programs with the PA Family Support Alliance
- Parent to Parent Pennsylvania – an organization that links families of children with disabilities or special needs for support and friendship
Photo credit: Bill Levin