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Parents out of fuel

Mark Arnold by Mark Arnold Additional Needs

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark heads up Urban Saints pioneering additional needs ministry programme and is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a learning and supp...

Some days stay in the memory a long time… this one I will never forget.

As so many stories do, this one started quite simply… I set off from my work office in Luton to travel to a venue in Sussex to run an evening training session.

I remember wending my way around the M25 glancing at two displays… the one on my SatNav telling me how many miles I had to go, and the one on my dashboard telling me how many miles of petrol I had left…

At this point, the dashboard was winning handsomely… At this point…

Around the bottom of the M25 I went, “Oh there’s a service station, shall I stop to fill up? What, at those prices? Surely I’ll find cheaper petrol later, after all I’ve got enough to get to my destination…”

Down the M23 I went and then my SatNav took me off onto an ‘A’ road… “Now I’ll find a cheaper petrol station…”

Then several things happened very quickly… It got dark, and immediately afterwards my SatNav took me off down a tiny country lane, then an even smaller one… Miles went past as I followed the firm instructions of my electronic navigator, now hopelessly lost without it.

I was also alarmed to see that the battle between the mileage readouts on the SatNav and the dashboard had reversed fortunes; I now didn’t have enough petrol to get to my destination and what I had left was going down very fast!

Into single figures the fuel remaining readout went, then in the time it took Ted Rogers (for the more mature reader) it was 3-2-1 and then a plaintive looking 0 blinked accusingly at me from the dashboard… no fuel left.

Now in the comfort of home as I write this, I can reassure myself that they build a few miles into these things so that when it hits zero, the car doesn’t just stop, but in the middle of a dark wood on a country lane with no idea where I was, reassurance was at a premium!

So, being the praying sort, I prayed.

“Father, you know the pickle I’m in, it would be great if you could see your way to finding me a petrol station very quickly please!!”

And, to be fair, as answers to prayer go this one was pretty quick! Within 60 seconds I emerged from the gloom and onto an ‘A’ road, a brightly lit ‘A’ road, with a petrol station directly opposite! “Wonderful, thank you Father!” I lovingly cried as I pulled onto the forecourt, the 0 on my dashboard now looking quite desperate.

As I pulled in, I noticed that the first petrol pumps had those “Sorry Out Of Use” hangers on… So did the next set, and the next.

As I looked around increasingly frantically, they ALL had those mocking, vindictive little signs… “Nooooooo!!!” The shop was open so I rushed in and enquired whether they had any petrol at all… “No, sorry mate, we’re completely out!” So was I, and apparently the next petrol station was some five miles up the road!

I stormed back to my car… Even the 0 on my dashboard seemed to be mocking me… I had a word with God (possibly several) about his so-called answer to prayer, very funny, very humourous indeed… to which he replied that he had given me exactly what I had asked for (which, to be fair, he had) and that I should be more specific…

Right then, you want specific? Try this… “Can you please allow me to drive to the next petrol station without running out of fuel, for it to be open, to have plenty of fuel in pumps that work, to take credit cards, including the card I have, for the credit card machine to work….”

I may have still been listing the requirements when I arrived at the next petrol station, which of course delivered on all of these expectations as well as a chocolate bar… comfort food was also desperately needed!

So, what has any of this got to do with additional needs parenting? Well, there are times when we are simply out of fuel, the zero is flashing on our dashboard.

We’ve been drained of all of our reserves, and we’re empty.

Those are one of the times when we need to be specific about what we need, what we ask others for.

Not what we might want at that point, but what do we really need? What is going to help us the most?

By thinking carefully about this as we ask, and about how we ask, and even being willing (or desperate enough!) to actually ask, is important.

As an additional needs parent, sure there are times when an extra pair of hands, or a moments peace, or even a comfort chocolate bar would be nice, and it might be what we want, but something more than an answer to the immediate crisis might be even better.

Maybe someone that is willing to let us share with them what additional needs parenting is really like, maybe finally opening up and admitting that we aren’t actually SuperDad/SuperMum and that some ongoing support is needed, maybe even getting some proper self-care and respite arranged (and yes, I know that is hard).

These longer-term solutions are wonderful gifts to receive… but we have to be willing to ask for them.

Let’s not wait until we are out of fuel.

Now, where’s that emergency petrol tank…


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