Study: How parents cope with kids' health challenges

A recent study suggests there are benefits that come from stressful and life-changing situations we experience with our children.

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Anchel with newborn Syona. Photo: Anchel Krishna

How did having a child impact who you are? I mean beyond the undereye circles, grey hair and that stubborn post-baby/toddler/preschooler weight that just won’t budge.

My daughter Syona has turned me into more of an optimist—she’s made me stronger, more resilient, faithful, patient, loving and kind. She has broadened my perspective and helped me understand what is truly important. All of this came after she battled to survive during her first few days of life and her diagnosis of cerebral palsy a year later. But I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. When I share this fact with people, they often don’t understand. I think people expected this would make me sadder. And while parenting a child with special needs definitely has tough moments, I notice and appreciate the good ones more than ever before.

But now I have an actual term for my feelings: Post-traumatic growth.

Research led by Professor Susan Cadell of the School of Social Work at Renison University College at the University of Waterloo explores the benefits that can coexist with the negative and stressful outcomes for parents who have a child born with—or are later diagnosed with—a life-limiting illness. The study focused on caregivers of children with more complex and serious health conditions than Syona’s, but based on what I read I would imagine the results would explain what many parents who have children with special needs experience.

The study used the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI), a tool designed to measure positive aspects of stressful situations. Areas measured include relating to others, personal strength, appreciation of life and spiritual change. The parents who used the tool reported growth across several areas. “The findings indicate that there are a variety of positive aspects in a population where we think not much positive at all is happening,” Professor Cadell says. “Our response rate was high because people wanted to talk about their children, families and relationships. This research has the potential to positively impact support for care-giving parents.”

I meet parents all the time who have lived through tough moments that most of can’t imagine: hardship after hardship, the illness or loss of a child, and so many other situations. Most of these folks have done incredible things despite their adversity. Some of the best people I know have taken their struggles and done so much good for our world.

Life isn’t idyllic all the time. There are tough moments, like when Syona tells me her legs aren’t working. There are endless forms to fill out and a regular need to repeat the story of the toughest moments of our lives. There are even times when writing this blog is difficult. I’m often making myself vulnerable about some of the most personal things my family’s situation. But I don’t often worry about people judging me, because my experiences with Syona have taught me that the judgement of others—good or bad—really doesn’t matter. What matters is the good in my life, in my kid, in your kids and in your lives.

Beyond her presence, Syona has given me the best gift any child can give her parent: a perspective that empowers me to be happy, to be an optimist and to appreciate the amazing things that surround us on a daily basis.

How has parenting changed your perspective?

Follow along as Anchel Krishna shares her experiences as mother to Syona, an extraordinary toddler with cerebral palsy. Read all of Anchel’s Special-needs parenting posts and follow her on Twitter @AnchelK.

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