Men have a hard time talking about facing things they can’t fix. They feel powerless and inept when they can’t simply work harder to fix their child’s special needs. Instead, they must deal with that powerlessness and discover what they can do.
The dynamic of a family with a child who has special needs tends to follow a pattern where the father focuses on the long-term problems such as the financial burden, while the mother responds more emotionally as she faces the challenges involved with the daily care of their child. When men do express their feelings, they tend to show anger or frustration.
The typical male mode is to keep a lid on tender emotions, take charge of practical details, and support others because they think they are expected to be “strong.” Holding in your feelings because you think you have to be “strong” is a horrible burden for men to bear. This secret inner life can literally and figuratively rip a family apart—especially when raising a child with special needs. Heartfelt feelings when denied can come out as anger, shame, and withdrawal and be extremely hurtful. Men’s greatest frustration is that they cannot fix the situation and make it better for their families.
For the past year and a half, fathers have been meeting monthly at the offices of Alternative Choices. These guys hangout and share food and their stories, while suggesting helpful solutions, and networking and sharing their love and devotion. Meeting with other fathers helps men to acknowledge their own needs. This helps them break through the wall of their own emotions to work through and complete their own sadness and frustrations.
At a recent meeting, I asked guys to share what was helping them to cope, and they came up with an impressive list:
- Not taking all the problems personally
- Tempering expectations
- Becoming more humble
- Learning to be patient and stop yelling
- Trusting the process their family is going through
- Embracing what is versus what is supposed to be
- Deepening commitment to their children
I invite you to join the discussion thread I am moderating at the FamilyAffaires.com Community Forum for fathers, their partners, and professionals seeking to support fathers and families. Make comments, ask questions, join the conversation.