Everyone knows being a parent is hard. But parenting a disabled child carries challenges you don't expect.

Many of us in this world are juggling multiple tasks at one time. On any given day, we are nurses, therapists, advocates, teachers, personal care assistants, and administrative assistants managing their endless paperwork.

When I had my son, I expected to face these day-to-day difficulties of parenting a disabled child. But the challenge I wasn't expecting came from outside the home.


For years, I have always wondered why friends seem to drop like flies from my life. What am I doing wrong? Why do I struggle making and keeping friends?

[rebelmouse-image 19533644 dam="1" original_size="2681x2361" caption="Photo by Jordan Whitt/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Jordan Whitt/Unsplash.

For some parents of disabled children, friendships can feel almost impossible to maintain.

As our children grow and we move deeper into the trenches of childhood, we sometimes find that our lives are very isolated from the world around us. We turn on our laptops, tablets, or phones and see pictures of other parents at social events, throwing elaborate parties or cheering on their kids at sports. These moments can make our stomachs sink, our hearts hurt, and remind us just how isolated our lives have become.

We are maxed out with the daily care of our children, and every aspect of our lives is wrapped up in the complications and extra fighting needed to raise our children successfully.

Most of us are trying to balance the needs of our children, and their care is so extensive we are moving from one crisis to the next on a daily basis. My son demands 100% of my attention, and due to the complexity of his care, all of my energy is focused on his treatments, appointments, researching, and managing my emotions about the toll his care takes on my psyche.

[rebelmouse-image 19533647 dam="1" original_size="5678x3884" caption="Photo by Cristian Newman/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Cristian Newman/Unsplash.

The fact is, I’m not a very good friend.

I don’t have a lot of free time. My schedule is always changing, and it is impossible for me to keep plans. My son’s care wears me out physically and emotionally. Due to the high-stress life I lead, I am short of patience, and I can get easily annoyed by people. I say things I don’t mean out of frustration, and I take well-meaning comments too personally.

On the rare opportunity I can stick to my plans, the thought of socializing leaves me with a deep sense of anxiety. I know that I will have to talk about my life, and talking about my life makes me feel exhausted. When I have a chance to get away from my house, the last thing I want to do is talk about what is going on in my life.

Frequently the events I attend are in larger groups, and the conversation is small talk related to raising children. Parents want to talk about their children, and for many, it’s a way to bond. They commiserate about the woes of parenting. Yet, I always feel like an outsider because I don’t relate to their stories, and I have little of my own to contribute. I’m often lost in my thoughts, completely preoccupied with what I need to do for my son.

[rebelmouse-image 19533648 dam="1" original_size="5616x3744" caption="Photo by Megan Lewis/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Megan Lewis/Unsplash.

I might be near people, but I’m a million miles away.

I listen to amazing stories about vacations, outings, and all the milestones that their children have accomplished. When I hear others having wonderful lives full of happy memories, I find that I sink further away from the conversation. I nod my head and smile, but inside I’m screaming because our lives are so different and it feels so unfair. My son hasn’t met those milestones, we never go on vacation, and our lives are spent moving from one office to another for appointments.

If I do speak, I know that I will have to share our journey. Talking to anyone about our life has a way of making me feel incredibly anxious. After the stress of a day caring for him, I don’t want to recap what is going on, nor do I want to answer questions. I also don’t want anyone feeling sorry for us. More often than not, I find myself not saying much at all.

Eventually, the night ends. I feel depleted, sad, and I am reminded how out of place I feel in the world. I push everyone away from me because it is so hard to be around anyone. I don’t like being reminded our life is different, and I can’t handle how that realization makes me feel. Selfishly I can’t focus my energy on anyone other than my child, and helping friends navigate their problems is impossible for me. I realize I just cannot be the friend I need to be.

Texts go unreturned, I stop answering messages and emails on my social media, and I quit accepting invites or attending events. The truth is I push everyone away because I’m emotionally drained by my feelings. I know our life is different, I hate that my child is dealing with so much adversity, and I can’t relate to anyone around me.

In the end, friendships dissolve because I can’t contribute, keep plans, or give anything to anyone other than my son.

I’ve learned over the years that I’m not alone in my feelings.

Other parents of disabled children have shared these same feelings with me. The lives of parents of disabled children are not typical, and we are keenly aware of our differences.

Our lives are filled with appointments, therapy, and endless paperwork that will take us away from the world as we care for our children. We are not readily accessible to our friends for long periods of time. Many of us feel incredibly guilty for not being better friends, but most of us accept that we are incapable of nurturing meaningful relationships outside of our immediate family.

We wish more than anything that people understood that even though we can’t always be there for people — we desperately need them in our lives. Even though we can’t go to events, we wish people would remember to invite us. We wish we didn’t feel so out of place, and hope that one day we will find someone who gets our life.

More importantly, we wish we were capable of being better friends, and that we could relate to other parents. Our lives as parents of disabled children make having friendship a tough challenge, and for many of us giving up is more natural than fighting.

We fight for everything for our children, so when it comes to the fight to maintain relationships, we need a little more help from our friends.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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