Why Additional Needs Parenting Is Like Body Surfing

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...

Have you ever tried body surfing? Think surfing, but without a surfboard or body board, just using your own body and maybe a small hand board to ride the waves. Just you, the surf, and the beach… idyllic thought isn’t it? So, what has this picturesque scene got to do with additional needs parenting? Well it all depends on the size of the waves! Small waves

We face and deal with small waves every day, the kind of waves that are about getting everyone up and navigating our way through all of the challenges of a typical day before we crash into bed at night. Sometimes just making sure everyone is dressed, fed, and is alive by the end of the day is all we can manage, but we generally cope with the small waves.

Sometimes they can, like with real body surfing, be great fun too! Helping us to experience new things, to learn more about our child or ourselves, to grow and develop. We might find ourselves washed up on the beach from time-to-time, but we and our child jump up and run back in to the surf once more to try again.

Bigger waves

Some days are different. Some days we face bigger waves, waves that can overwhelm us, waves that toss us around and pound us into the sea bed below. Waves that fill us with uncertainty and fear. Like when our phone rings and we look and see that it is school calling. Or when our child has a seizure, or becomes seriously ill, and is rushed into hospital. Or when we get that letter telling us that our child is being reassessed for their benefits.

There are many bigger waves that crash down on us as we parent our child with additional needs or disability, more than we can probably count, but through them all we learn to be resilient, to ride as many waves as we can and to come back up for air again.

Biggest waves

As parents of a child with additional needs or disabilities, we will all face the biggest waves, maybe more than once. These are the waves that can break us, can leave us with scars that last for life; waves that can even drown some of us. Like the wave that hits us when we receive the diagnosis for our child, or the wave that hits us when our partner cannot cope anymore and leaves, or even the monster wave that carries our beloved child away for ever.

These waves do not come often, but when they do they can be devastating. We cannot body surf them, they are too powerful. We cannot duck under them, they run too deep. We cannot swim over them, they are too high. We can do nothing other than to be carried along by the wave to wherever it takes us.

But, whether we are playing in the small waves, being tossed around by the bigger waves, or being broken by the biggest waves, we do not need to do so alone. Some of us might have a faith, and this can help and sustain us in the deep depths of despair; for others it might be the company of friends and family, journeying with us and helping to pick us up when we are washed up on the beach again. We might connect into support groups that link us with people that have the same scars as us, people who have been battered by the biggest waves and are able to use their experiences to help others. Whoever we turn to for support in the hard times, let’s remember how much of a difference that made and look to help others in a similar situation to us when we can.

So, let us face the waves of life with new hope, with trust in our hearts, with renewed faith, receiving and giving support along the way. Let’s not just body surf the waves of life, but let’s dance on them together!


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