Julie Green: The Other Side of the Coin


How to be a Good Mom Friend

...Or why we don't necessarily have to talk about our kids


Friends come and friends go. And if friendships change when you become a mom, then they change even more radically when your child has special needs. 

A strange thing happened when my son was diagnosed with autism a few years ago. Some of my friends dove for the hills. They didn't all disappear, but some just gradually dropped off. This post isn't about finger-pointing. I get how hard it is. You don't know what to say without feeling awkward or guilty. And for a while I didn't know what to say, either.

When you learn that your child has a disability, there is a shock period you go through, a grieving stage like a dark blanket that covers your life in one fell swoop. Suddenly I found I couldn't relate to most other parents. Couldn't stand to bear witness to the joys and challenges of raising a typical kid. Play dates involving my son were naturally a shambles, and when there is no common ground between young children, it's tough for parents to hang out.

Of course some friends are keepers. But for a while I looked around, and all I saw were parents in the same rocky boat. My social circle (by necessity?) had shrunk to include predominantly other moms whose kids had, if not autism, then some other special need. We related, naturally. But it troubled me: How had autism become a prerequisite for my friendship? Awareness and advocacy are important. Autism plays a huge part in my life and probably always will, yet just as it doesn't define my son's life, it doesn't define MINE.

So if you want to be a good friend, don't take this the wrong way, but when we get together, I don't necessarily want to talk about your kids or mine.

I don't want to compare notes about therapies or swap gluten-free recipes. I don't want to commiserate over IEPs or even celebrate our kids' latest achievements, no matter proud we are of them and how far they've come. And ditto if your children are typical.

No, just for an hour or two, I want to remember who I was before I became a mom, and a mom to a child with autism at that. I want to get reacquainted with that person who had interests and ideas of her own. I want to talk about The Bachelor and Rumer Willis's latest performance on Dancing with the Stars. (OK, so maybe not, but you get the gist...) I'm willing to talk about anything, frankly. I'm not fussy. I want to sip mojitos and confess celebrity crushes and gossip about people from high school. I want to talk about books and movies and music. I want to ask where did you get that cute top, and should I cut my hair or let it grow again?

I want to bitch about utterly frivolous things like the way my husband overloads the dishwasher. I want to laugh until my sides cramp and my cheeks go numb. Just for five minutes I want to forget and remember. And if you ask how my son's doing, please don't look at me with that apologetic look on your face. He hasn't got cancer. There's no chance of remission. And don't be surprised when I answer, "Fine," like you asked about the weather. Because what do you expect me to say? He's himself, and so am I.

While we can't pretend that autism never happened, if you're a friend you'll humour me and only bring it up if I do first. Chances are, I won't. Chances are, I need a break. I need some F-U-N. But if I do bring it up, I'll trust that you will be there and you will really listen, even if you don't understand.

But whatever you do, please don't give up on me or my friendship. Chances are, I need you more than you'll ever know.

Image credit: Flickr - Wrote

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