I honestly don’t get it, sometimes.
Being the parent of a child with special needs is hard work, and the rate at which we burn ourselves out is probably legend. I hear complaints – constantly – through many of my groups about how tiring it is, and how they wish they could get some relief.
And then… no one shows up when there’s relief offered.
I don’t know how it works in other parts of the country – or if other groups do the same thing – so I’m probably being a little bit unfair, but.
Around here, the Arc Baltimore offers Parents’ Day Out programs several times a quarter. It’s four hours of free respite – free, as in beer. No money, no nothing. You fill out a form to give them some basic information on your child (or children), and then as the dates come around, you shoot them an email asking about availability. Most of the respite occasions are at churches and on Saturdays, but they’ve recently found a group of Seventh Day Adventists that will work with them on some Sundays and… it really is that simple.
You pull up, you walk your children in (they take kids ages 3-15 and their neurotypical siblings), you sign them in (and in our case, we kibitz with the nice woman from the Arc who oversees the program, because we’re frequent customers), and you’re free as the wind for four hours. The volunteers are prepared with games, crafts, videos and snacks, and will handle just about anything that comes up with them. They often have a nurse on staff in case there are any boo-boos.
And believe you me, you can do a lot from 9 AM – 1 PM (or 10 AM – 2 PM, as the Sunday session works). The wife and I have gone to a movie, had lunch, gone shopping… anything that we can’t easily or usually do with the children underfoot. I’ve dropped the kids off so I could run to shul and not have to worry about what they’re up to while I’m on the bimah. Yesterday, for example, we went down for a tour of Ravens Stadium with my in-laws. We’re talking about using one of the summer respite dates, if we can get it, to hit the casino downtown, since it’s relatively close-by today’s respite site.
The Monster and R were the only kids at today’s session. They had four total signed up, and the other two kids never showed. And I don’t get it.
I don’t know if it’s a distrust of the volunteers who staff the program, all of whom that we’ve met have been wonderful, caring, attentive people who absolutely adore our children. (The volunteers today made very sure that we know the date of the next one, because they want our kids to come back.) I don’t know if it’s a lack of knowledge of the program’s existence, since I know that the “Moms Understand” groups at the Arc are very well attended, even if the “Dads Talk” group isn’t. But I feel like no matter how much I wave the banner of “FREE RESPITE HERE!“, no one takes it up…
… and I worry that if there’s not enough people availing themselves of it, it’ll dry up. It’s a disservice to yourselves, as parents, for not finding time to rest and recharge, and it’s a disservice to others who could use it.
So seriously. If you live here in the Baltimore area and could use it… try it once, and see how your kids take to it. (The next one is May 21st at St. Joe’s in Cockeysville.) If you live further away, see if your local Arc, or other groups, offer similar programs.
You owe it to yourselves.