This month's First things First post is by Amy Sheridan.
You can read it over at Amy's Blog (http://aspergerninja.blogspot.com/)
Sick and Tired
How A Single Mother of a Special Needs Child Deals with Sudden Illness
Please go there and have a read of it before you read my comments. I don't want to spoil anything.
One of the things that struck me about Amy's article is that it deals with single-parenthood. I'm sure that at times, most parents feel like single parents. I know that my wife often does, particularly when I leave before the kids wake up and I return home with only an hour or two to spare. I take great pains to ensure that I have no weekend activities - at least not activities without my family - but sometimes work and other commitments manage to consume those too.
I grew up with both of my parents married. They're still married today. My father used to leave for work before I awoke and he put himself through night-school, so we didn't see him at night either. When he wasn't learning or working, he was down the pub. On weekends in summer, he was out sailing and in winter he was in the garage making new boats for the summer. It felt like we never saw him.
I don't remember my mother being sick often. She just wasn't able to be sick. She couldn't show any sign of weakness because she usually had to do it all herself. We were certainly lucky that she didn't have any major illnesses while we were growing up because I'm not sure who would have taken care of us.
Of course, being a single parent is a different proposition altogether. In some ways it sounds easier (being your own boss, not having to consider the opinion of your spouse, having entire weekends free while your partner minds the kids and getting alimony payments for support). I suspect that this is all wrong though. It's married person's view of "the grass being greener on the other side".
Single-parenthood is not something I think about much. My wife and I work very hard as a team and we have very similar values. I just don't have any experience of doing anything by myself. I'm a loner by nature and yet I went straight from my parents to my wife. I've never actually ever been alone.
Amy's article brings it all home for me. There are times when I just can't cope with the kids and I need to walk away. I can do that because I know that my wife is there for them. Similarly, there are times when my wife says; "I've had enough, I'm going out". She just leaves the kids and takes off. Luckily, I'm around to fill the gap.
Parents need those kinds of mini-breaks and usually, they seem to need them at very short notice. Parents of children on the spectrum have an even greater need for those sorts of breaks.
There has been a lot of news lately about mothers who have killed their children. In fact, there was a well publicized incident in July and another one in August. They were so similar and so close together than at first I thought it was just the same incident being reported on twice. It wasn't. I suspect that if I were to search the news archives of the world, I could find at least one incident per month. All of these incidents are different, so I can't really generalise but I do believe that providing those parents with more breaks could have saved lives.
I also wonder how much the demise of family contributes to the lack of available support. I'm not simply talking about "break-ups" here, I'm also talking about the fact that today's grandparents are far less involved with their grandchildren than their grandparents were with them.
How do you do it when you're a single parent?
I don't know.
In Amy's case, the breaks weren't even for stress relief. They were for medical reasons. They were very urgent breaks.
Of course, as Amy says herself, the breaks wouldn't have been urgent had she remembered to take some time out.
It's one of the most obvious (and overlooked) points about "First things first"....
Take care of the carer.