The role of the father in the life of their children cannot be underestimated. It’s absence or presence directly impacts the rise and fall of a community. That said, the role of the mother is as equally pivotal as well. Many a times, it is the mother who is the safety net and ‘fall-back’ position for children when crisis, emergencies or divorce break up the family unit. In my line of work as a Special Educator of 13 years across multiple states ranging from Massachusetts to Hawai’i, I have seen and experienced first hand the ins and outs of families that go through the gauntlet of divorce, drug use, violence…and apathy. As a male and a father of three, I am sad to say that a lot of the times, the father is the one who is no longer in the picture. This is a hard truth, more so as we go down the socio-economic ladder.
In Hawai’i for example, the prevalent use of hard drugs, such as crystal meth, has delivered a super-blow to many families. Dad’s in these situations end up in jail, washed up… time is lost, kids grow up, the community is silently hit hard… it is a sad, sad story. The children lose out big time. Everybody does.
Again, the presence or absence of the lead male role model cannot be ignored. It makes just about all the difference in the life of his children. For better or for worse, and withholding judgement, for each case is different, the breakdown of a parent system, its movement through time as a dysfunctional operating unit, being what it is in all its reality and truth statistically falls on the shoulders of… the mother.
The mom begins to wear different hats. This is a tough situation and one that is not done well at first. The effect of a single-parent home begins to show itself in the emotional and mental health of the children. Pain is felt and misdirected between parent and child. Yet the resilient, determined woman does pull ahead and in the cases where the father goes completely out of the picture forever, the children also pull ahead due to the mothers determination. We can attribute this to the indomitable will of humans who just love their kids and do all they can to ensure they move forward in life. It is not simply a female thing. Single Dads do this too! (This post is about moms though:)
In the case of families with children with special needs, everything gets ramped up. The tension and constant pressure experienced by parents with children who have special needs, such as those on the autism spectrum or intellectual disabilities simply gets ratcheted up to levels unknown by typical folk. To illustrate this, have you ever heard of PTSD? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? It use to be called ‘shell shock’ in the military and is a term derived from the experience of battle-worn soldiers whom never seem to shake off the horrors of war, or are at least haunted by their experiences in one way or another constantly.
Well, depending on the degree of the disability of the child, the tension on the family unit and on the parents marriage overflows its banks and if left unchecked and unregulated, engulfs the normal day to day life of parents and siblings. You see, a child with severe special needs requires a great deal of care. Parents go into a very pro-active mode that MAY leave them exhausted by days end, only to replay the next day. It can become or feel unending.
Statistically, it is the mother who bears the brunt of the management of the child with special needs. This creates a lopsided expenditure of energy which sets the stage for further breakdown and disrepair down the road. As a Daddy and coach who has worked with hundreds of children and their parents, I take my black hat off to each of the mothers, be they of kids with special needs or typical parents simply raising their children in the absence of the Dad’s who are not around. You rock. Keep on rocking for your kids, wipe away those tears, put that chin up and be all that you can be for the kids. They are looking at how you manage in crisis mode as well as in the times when you are flourishing. Every moment counts, mom. Continue to be strong and of good courage for yourself and for them. Dance everyday and let it go.
You got this.