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A new beginning.

I BEGAN MAKING PHONE CALLS TO AGENCIES to obtain information and assistance for myself and for my child. Little did I know that this was the onset of the breakup of my marriage and that I would eventually be raising my child all alone.

Bringing Brandon home was the beginning of countless hours, days, weeks and years of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, special preschools, doctors, hospitals, clinics, and the list goes on and on. My days were spent driving all over town to obtain services for Brandon and my nights were spent planning for the next day.

It seemed that as more time passed, my husband and I began to grow further and further apart, each afraid to let the other know the pain we felt in our hearts. In addition, my husband became obsessed with Brandon's disability. Whenever we went out socially, it was his sole topic of conversation, and it was the same at home. Of course, affixing the blame depends on who is telling the story. We finally reached a point where I had to choose between my marriage and my child. It was unfortunate when it happened, but I had to go with what I believed in. I made my decision to leave.

Single Parenting

I am now what is known as a "single parent," which nowadays is not so unusual. It is slightly more difficult, however, when you are the single parent of a child with a disability.

My first task was to obtain a job. After finding one, my search for a day-care program began. No one wanted the added responsibility of caring for a child with cerebral palsy. After contacting 36 day-care facilities, I stumbled across an excellent program that accepted Brandon with open arms. It was definitely the answer to one of my many prayers. Putting him in a regular day-care setting was the best thing I have ever done for him. He has learned to be "just one of the kids." Everyone likes him and shows tremendous interest in helping him be the best that he can be.

I believe that setting realistic goals and priorities are the two most important factors in surviving single parenting. After my divorce, I gave myself five years to have a stable job, a home for us, and somewhat happy lives. It has only been three years but already I have a stable job, a home and, believe it or not, overall happiness and security. I feel that setting goals and striving to reach them also gives you the drive it takes to make it in this world.

Sibling Issues

Brandon has a sister who is five years old. Lindsey was born healthy (another prayer answered). I never thought I could manage to raise two children on my own, but I am doing it. Not that there isn't a hitch now and then, but still, in all, I AM DOING IT!

Finding time for Lindsey is one of my on-going priorities. I never want her to feel that she is not as important to me as Brandon is or that his needs are greater than hers. Watching her grow has been one of the greatest joys of my life. She does everything with such ease. Although she is my youngest, she is sometimes my strength. In the beginning of our new lives, my children were the only reasons I cared to survive. I thought they really needed their mother; but the truth is, I needed them--and still do.

Your Emotional Rights

Being a single parent gives you many rights, rights which you probably have never thought of. This is an area I feel I must address: single parents not as parents, but as people. It is all too common for parents to be so totally caught up in the daily pressures and priorities of meeting the needs of a child with a disability that they forget they, too, are human beings with needs. If you do not remember to be human you cannot help your child to become more so. More than other parents, you need to stay in touch with yourself and constantly reaffirm your humanity by exercising your rights, whenever necessary.

These are some of the rights we parents have as people:

* Cry. Parents have the right to cry. Don't hold in all that fear, hurt and anxiety. It helps to let it out--cry, yell, scream. It's nothing to hide or be ashamed of: You are not the only one who hurts.

* Talk to others. They can tell you that this, too, will pass.

* Grieve. It is okay to grieve. There is a time for grief, and it is necessary.

* Learn to accept. I would say that the agony passes as you give up the dreams and accept the reality of your child, whatever it is. You will gradually begin to enjoy each gain the child makes and take pleasure in whatever he or she can do. That's the world of acceptance. It's not necessarily a bad world. It's just that getting there is so very hard. Know that we all hurt at first and it doesn't seem like things will ever be the same, and in a way they won't. Now after three years, I laugh at jokes, I still work out, I enjoy my friends, my life goes on, and I'm enjoying it!

I do still cry sometimes and feel so incredibly alone: lying awake at night wondering when the heartache and sadness will be lifted from my life; needing someone to help make decisions; and so desperately wanting someone who can understand all the feelings inside of me. My emotions are so complex at times that I do not understand most of them myself. It is at these times that I read this poem a friend gave me about Brandon. I then achieve an overwhelming understanding of Brandon and myself:

A meeting was held quite far from Earth!

It's time again for another birth.

Said the angels to the Lord above,

"This special child" will need much love.

His progress may be very slow.

Accomplishments he may not show.

And he'll require extra care

From the folks he meets down there.

He may not run or laugh or play;

His thougjts may seem quite far away.

In many ways he won't adapt

And, he'll be known as handcapped.

So please be careful where he's sent.

We want his life to be content.

Please Lord find the one who will do

A special job for you.

She will not realize right away

The leading role she's asked to play.

But with this child sent from above,

Comes a stronger faith and richer love.

And soon she'll know the privilege given

In caring for her gift form Heaven.

Her precious child so meek and mild

Is Heaven's very special child.

* Allow other to care about you. During difficult times, lean on your family and friends. For the first year, I didn't allow anyone to get close to me. I felt numb, unable to feel--it was the safest way to protect myself from feeling alone and hurt and angry. Don't make my mistake. Let others in and more importantly--let them help you and be with you.

A bit of a hard shell still remains with me, but now I am able to feel again. It is not bad to have any kind of feelings or even a combination of them. Feelings are not bad or good; it is what you do about them that's important. Though anger is acceptable, understand that you must not allow it to possess and destroy you. You will discover friends, family and others who will accept your anger because they have shared it, and who will listen and accept your feelings because they accept you.

* Do things for yourself. You must make yourself happy before you can work on the happiness of others. I was always told that true happiness comes from within, and finally I know what that really means.

* Take time away from your child once in a while. Get away from everthing, alone or with a friend, for a few minutes a day, a week or whatever you feel is best for you. You'll be surprised at how it will change your perspective on caring for your child.

* Relax. Feel confident that you can look back at some future time and know that no one could have done more.

Finally, but most importantly, remember the one right that distinguishes you from other parents and bonds you to others like you, other parents of children with disabilities--the right to never give up. You have the right to believe in miracles, great and small, and the right to make them happen.

Valerie Bateman is a legal assistant in Mobile, Ala., and the single mother of Brandon, 8, who has cerebral palsy, and Lindsey, 5. Bateman has spoken on single parenting the child with a disability to various local support groups and at community meetings. She is willing to speak to other interested groups and can be contacted at her home in Mobile at (205) 433-3131.
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Title Annotation:Annual Mobility Guide for Parents of Children and Adolescents; parenting a disabled child
Author:Bateman, Valerie
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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