Almost every week I read a new article about how to develop partnerships with parents of children with disability. Each time, I am hopeful we are moving beyond the “us and them” way of talking about engaging parents.
I am usually disappointed.
Parents are continually referred to as though they need to be ‘dealt with’ or ‘managed’. But I think we need to take a step further – to understand.
As a professional, I have always gone to great lengths to sit alongside parents, to understand who they are, their journey and their experience – both with and without their child.
While communication is important, if we truly take the time to listen to parents, we can understand what is going on for them.
Like the family who cancelled their last three appointments without explanation. Dad is suicidal again and they are just trying to survive.
Or the single mum who won’t give you eye contact. She has suffered trauma and you remind her of her abuser.
Or the parent who has health issues she hasn’t told you about, that make her cry herself to sleep in pain and mean she often forgets the forms you asked her to sign.
Parents are not accessories for a child with disability. Parents are humans who have lived a whole life, separate to their child. And sometimes this life bleeds into how they engage with you.
Everyone has a story that will break your heart. (Brene Brown)
Be kind, be sensitive and be aware in your interactions with parents. They may not share with you everything that is happening in their world. But by listening and really understanding parents as wholistic individuals, you show respect, care and support – something that often gets lost as the spotlight focuses on our children and the services they receive.