What It’s Like to Make Friends as a Special Needs Single Parent

There was a meme that I recently came across that jokingly read, “If I’m ever murdered or kidnapped, please don’t make up lies about me. I do not light up a room. Everyone doesn’t want to be my friend. People don’t automatically take notice of me. I have a smart mouth and two friends. Tell 20/20 that.” After giggling, I started to really process the words and take them to heart. 

It’s hard to make friends in general, and harder to make friends when you’re an adult. And it’s hardest to make friends when you’re a parent of a child with special needs. As much as I crave that social interaction, my spare moments are allocated toward a hot bath … and then divided amongst my other three children for special one-on-one time. So, while I really want a social life, it’s just not easy to prioritize.

When I was in my early twenties, I was part of a “mommy group.” We had organized meetups with other moms and their children, around the same age, who typically stayed home during the day. New members were added often and, as the group grew, cliques formed. The group consistently had roughly 50 members. The weekly kid-friendly events turned into twice per week and then pretty much every day. We celebrated birthdays and had regular mom’s night out events. Our husbands became friends. Families got bigger and friends visited one another in the hospital during births. We met their extended family. Our group was like one big giant family. 

The friendships grew organically; the online world was limited. We eventually used Facebook as a means of communicating but the bonding was all in-person. It’s interesting to reflect that as social media became larger, our group got smaller. And there seems to be a correlation of just how little effort people put into relationships these days. 

I have a large social network online and I’m pretty public about intimate details of my life, but there’s not a single friend at this moment that I would refer to as “my BFF”. Don’t get me wrong – I have two friends that I can count on for anything. Regardless of how much time has passed,  I could text them right now at 2:00 AM and ask for help, or request a recipe, and they’d respond without hesitation. But I don’t know what’s going on in their current daily lives. I have no idea what their homes look like today. I don’t really know much about the person they are today, other than the fact that they have always been loyal to me and I appreciate them.

After thinking about what friendships are like as an adult, I couldn’t help but wonder why I had such a lack of close friends –  perhaps it was due to being disconnected from society during my abusive marriage, or technology changing the dynamic of what a friend truly is, or maybe it’s because I’m the mother of a chronically ill child? It’s a lot to handle for most women my age; I get that. If I try to have as much as a phone conversation, my son is pulling at my shirt or trying to grab the phone – he’s fighting for my attention. 

As I reflected on the why it occurred to me and I made a vow to myself: I never again will question whether or not being a special needs parent puts a damper on my social life. Being a special needs parent brings me so much joy in so many ways, that I’ve really only gained with this new role. There are so many people who live their everyday lives never truly understanding compassion, resilience, strength, milestones, achievements, and/or unconditional love. I never again will question if having a child with a lifelong illness will affect me. This disease affects him. I am simply here to support him as he lives his life to the fullest. 

Sometimes it can feel lonely, not having my “ride or die” girl(s). When you’re parenting a child with special needs, redefining a new normal is kind of part of the package. And I’m okay with that. My role as a special needs parent is affecting my life in ways I cannot control. But, at the end of the day,  my child does not care what I look like to others. My child will never be impressed with the number of followers I have or how many guests attended last night’s dinner party. He will never care about the amount of invites I received within my social circle. My child needs me. And if I’m lucky, he will consider me his very best friend – forever.

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