This week’s blog was written by Jennifer Goodwill, a Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute. Jennifer has worked with The Arcadia Institute since January 2012. Sandy is the mother of a 17 year-old son, Scott. Her son attends high school, works at a pet store, hangs out with friends and enjoys video games. He also has a disability. While Scott is perfectly content living at home now, Sandy knows that will change in a few years. When the day comes for him to move into his own house or apartment, he will be ready.
His family is already teaching him the skills he needs to live independently. “We think we know our children so well that we want to make decisions for them. It is so easy for every parent to do things for their child, but we need to teach our children skills for independence,” says Sandy. This is true for all parents whether your child has a disability or not.
As a parent of young children it is hard to imagine that there will ever be a day when I will not have to care for my children’s every need and orchestrate all the events of their lives. Thoughts of my children moving out of the house bring both longing for when that day will finally arrive and anxiety wondering how my children will get along without my help and intervention. I believe this is a struggle to which all parents can relate. A parent whose child has a disability, shouldn’t feel isolated in their concerns about their child’s future. Preparing children to live as adults is a process that all families go through.
As Sandy points out, youth is the time to lay the groundwork for independent living. Sandy does this by including Scott in the family’s household activities. He helps with the cooking, assists with laundry and prepares his own snacks. “There may be times as a parent that you need to look away as your child is pouring his own glass of juice and it is spilling on the floor making a mess. But this is how your child will learn to be independent. Parents need to have a mind toward the future, even if it is inconvenient.” Children may grumble about doing some work, and it would often be easier for the parent to do it themselves, but that doesn’t help our children learn.
As a parent, this is an excellent reminder to me. There will be times when I will need to push my children beyond their comfort zone, times when I will have to watch them fail in order to give them room to succeed. But better now with my guidance when the consequences are smaller than a painful awakening much later on.