Recently a friend of mine who has a child with Down Syndrome shared something with me. I asked her if I could share her story as I thought her experience was something that we could all learn from. She had started the school year volunteering a day a week in her daughter’s classroom, just as she had done with her 2 older children. But she found this experience to be much different with her daughter than it had been with her first two children. She was glad that her daughter was placed in a regular education kindergarten classroom; she is a strong advocate of inclusive education.
But there was one challenge that she had not anticipated. She had thought about how this inclusive educational setting would affect her daughter, but she had not thought about how it might affect her. Going into kindergarten, she was feeling really great about the progress her daughter had made in preschool. She knew her daughter was developmentally behind where most kindergarten students were at, but she was thinking that she was pretty close and that there wasn’t much difference between her daughter and her peers. But then she began her volunteer work in her daughter’s classroom and she found it difficult to watch her daughter struggle with learning tasks that other kids in the class seemed to breeze through. The kids in her daughter’s class were very kind to her daughter and the teacher was really meeting her daughter’s needs and had created a classroom environment where differences were celebrated and accepted. She couldn’t ask for anything more but each week when she entered the classroom as a parent volunteer, she found it to be a very emotional experience. She actually began to dread her volunteer work because she felt as if each week she was getting a slap in the face. She felt like it was easier to notice and celebrate her daughter’s successes when she didn’t have the repetitive comparison of her daughter’s development vs. the typical development of a child her daughter’s age staring her in the face. She decided that she needed to stop volunteering in the classroom. She told the teacher she could do volunteer tasks at home but that she could no longer help in the classroom. My friend was feeling guilty about this; she worried what the other parents who volunteered in the classroom would think about her. The teacher had planned a meeting for classroom volunteers early in the year. At that meeting, she had trained the parent volunteers on what they would do when working in the classroom. She had emphasized the importance of making a time commitment and sticking with it. She wondered what her fellow volunteer parents were thinking when they heard that she was no longer volunteering in the classroom. She wondered what the teacher was thinking. She tried to explain to the teacher why she wanted to change her volunteer commitment responsibilities, but she wasn’t sure the teacher supported her decision.
This situation led me to ponder a few questions: How do we balance taking care of our kids with taking care of ourselves? How can we get support from other parents so that we don’t feel like we’re in this parenting adventure alone? How can we feel confident when we are making a decision that we believe to be in our family’s best interest but we know that the decision might be judged by others as “the wrong thing to do”? Share your thoughts and experiences – I think they’ll be helpful to my friend and to lots of other parents too.