For most people, there is nothing more important in life than family. The benefits of the parent child relationship cannot be stressed enough. Family provides the nurturing support that every person needs, but it is particularly crucial for children with intellectual challenges. The unconditional love they receive from a parent gives them permission to be themselves. They receive encouragement, understanding and most of all complete acceptance. The single most valuable thing a child with a developmental disability can be given is the loving support of their family.
One of the great pleasures of my job is getting to work closely with the parents of the men and women we employ. I have tremendous admiration for the way they have overcome countless challenges while doing their best to provide their son or daughter with the opportunity in life to reach their full potential. The families that make up the Meadows are the heart of our organization. They are an integral part of what we do, and they assist in our work in countless ways. We know we can rely on them because their support for our efforts never waivers. They are vital to our success, and without them, we could not continue to offer employment and vocational training to adults with developmental disabilities.
In other job settings families are not part of the equation, but with our organization, they are critically important. We work closely with them to ensure that the intellectual, physical and emotional needs of their loved ones are met. We stay in constant contact with them so that the lines of communication are always open and easily accessible. When a problem arises with an employee, the families are an indispensable source of information. Their experience and knowledge of their child’s needs or behavior often provide the solution to whatever the issue might be. We are partners. They place their trust in us to protect the health and welfare of their sons and daughters, and we do our best to live up to that responsibility.
We all know that being a parent is a difficult job that requires commitment, dedication and a willingness to be both flexible and firm. But when physical and intellectual challenges are added to the mix, coupled with what can sometimes be life altering medical issues, it can become overwhelming. Many of these families have lived through multiple illnesses and emergencies with their child, and in some cases, they have literally faced life or death situations. They have experienced the raw visceral fear of losing their child, and they have come through that experience with a profound sense of just how fragile life can be. These families know how important it is to appreciate every day you have with those you love. They understand how powerful the small quiet moments can be, and they realize that each one will become a treasured memory. These parents have the wisdom to fully enjoy the time they are able to share with their child.
Because the mothers and fathers I am privileged to work with have raised an individual with a developmental disability they have a different perspective on life. They have overcome difficulties that I never experienced with my daughter. They have faced seemingly endless tests that others did not have to endure. They have been required to make incredible sacrifices and to give up a bigger portion of their own lives than other parents. In many cases, they have been subjected to more stress, more worry, more fear and more frustration. There has, at times, been great discouragement and they have been concerned whether or not they could handle everything that life was throwing at them. Sometimes these families felt isolated. They felt disconnected from parents who were not experiencing the same issues. There were days when they wondered if they could face the future.
But even through the darkest of times, they continued to fight for the rights of their children. They had the courage to stand up to those who refused to accept their son or daughter as a person and instead tried to reduce them to a diagnosis. They did everything within their power to ensure that their child could enjoy the best life possible. They became powerful advocates for their loved ones. They refused to accept the limited thinking of others and they continually pushed for society to understand and to accept their children.
In most cases, these parents did not anticipate having a son or daughter with a disability. The condition was diagnosed at birth or when their child was very young. However, some found out through prenatal testing that their baby would be born with an intellectual challenge, and they made the courageous decision to continue the pregnancy. No matter how it occurred, they had to be willing to adjust their expectations. They had to find the strength to accept a different reality from the one they had envisioned.
Because they were able to adapt and embrace a life they had not asked for, they learned to accept what was necessary without compromising their hope for the future. They learned to believe in themselves even as they were constantly learning everything they could about the particular issues that their child was facing. They learned that they could be stronger than they ever imagined, and they learned how to face disappointments and setbacks without ever giving up.
Often these families were told by experts that there were certain things their child would never be able to do. They were told not to expect too much and to settle for whatever they could manage to accomplish. But they refused to accept such negative thinking. They believed their son or daughter could achieve more. They were determined to see that they had the same opportunities as other children. They wanted them to enjoy inclusion in the community, to receive an education and to be treated as an equal.
The parents I work with have a wonderful attitude. They are positive and hopeful about the future, and they are thankful for the lives they’ve been able to share with their child. I have never encountered bitterness or regret over the roles they were thrust into. They simply took on the responsibility and did the best they could. The proof of their parenting skills is evident in the way their loved ones conduct themselves. The work ethic of our employees, their enthusiasm and their commitment to excellence are a clear reflection of their upbringing. Our families have worked exceedingly hard in countless ways to prepare their loved ones to be able to have and to hold a job. The success they enjoy today is the result of a lifetime of love and support provided by their mothers, fathers and siblings.
The families associated with the Meadows are one of our greatest blessings. Personally speaking they make my job richly satisfying. They are a pleasure to work with because we all want the same thing. We want their sons and daughters to have a fulfilling and meaningful employment experience. We want them to have the opportunity to learn new skills and to achieve new goals in a safe environment. We want to assist them when they are challenged, and we want to celebrate their accomplishments.
I have the greatest respect for the parents of our clients. Although I know the personal history of their loved ones, I can never completely understand what they experienced as mothers and fathers. I can only say that I feel incredibly fortunate to have a job that brings me into contact with such people, and I have a deep appreciation for their courage, strength and integrity. Their lives are a source of inspiration that bears witness to the beauty and power of unconditional love.
Through their commitment and dedication to their children they demonstrate the true meaning of what it means to be a family.