By: Stephen Gallup
My developmentally disabled son Joseph is 29 years old, and for the last nine years he has lived in a licensed residential facility. Earlier, as a little guy, he had been the focal point of a very, very, very intensive home therapy program managed by his mother and me. So I can speak from experience about both hands-on and more passive involvement.
Now, I do believe in making extraordinary efforts to help a child with problems, provided that you have a good reason to believe those efforts will be effective and that you are able to do so. However, those two conditions are often not met. Parents can and do hurt themselves–their personal health, their relationships, and their finances–by pinning their hopes on intervention beyond the point of reason.
If you reach a point where placement is an option being considered, the following thoughts may be helpful.
1. You absolutely must take care of yourself. I admit to being slow in reaching this perspective. When my wife Judy and I were investing virtually every waking moment in the quest to help our son, I had a dim view of parents who had not made the same choice. But now that I’m older and less energetic, I know that kind of effort would be impossible for me. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was too difficult for Judy even then. Over a period of time she became extremely run-down, emotionally and physically, and then she became very ill. An advisor offered the reminder that it would do Joseph no good at all for us to self-destruct. In other words, everyone has limits to what they are able to handle. We need to recognize and honor those limits.
2. The process of growing up inevitably takes a child out from under the parent’s wing. My son Joseph has a roommate and a social life outside the family, and that is as it should be. Parents often have trouble letting go, even when their child has no developmental issues at all. But letting go is what we are supposed to do. This is a gradual process, of course. There will still be visits and opportunities to spend time together. We remain available to help as needed. And if at some future point it’s appropriate for junior to return home, that’s an option too. These decisions are seldom irrevocable.
3. Guilt accomplishes nothing. Granted, placement was not the future you had in mind when you brought your beloved child into the world. I certainly had other goals in mind for Joseph. I would not be honest if I pretended otherwise. So there is regret, yes. I also still cling to hope that things may improve. The science and practice of medicine continue to move forward, and I continue to watch for news that could make a difference for him. What I don’t do is kick myself over matters beyond my control. Granted, emotions can have a life of their own; you may understand this on a rational level and still feel conflicted. And if you decide that this is not the time to place your child, well, that’s okay too. Placement is simply an option, and having options is good.
Stephen Gallup is the author of a memoir, What About the Boy? A Father’s Pledge to His Disabled Son. Visit www.fatherspledge.com for updates regarding What About the Boy? A Father’s Pledge to His Disabled Son