In the very first Launch into Life workshop series, I (MSW Student) had the distinct honour of meeting two Moms, Cindy and Jackie, who I learned over the three nights, shared a close and supportive friendship. In the midst of sometimes stressful and overwhelming transition planning, Cindy and Jackie not only appeared calm and light-hearted, but also quickly stepped into a leadership role in the group and provided other parents with strategies, tips, and resources that they had found helpful in raising their son’s, Alex (19) and Matt (21). I was both curious and eager to know how their friendship had helped support them, their sons’, and their families through the challenges, triumphs, and uncertainties of maneuvering through life with the added lens of disability. Through an enlightening conversation—filled with much laughter—the three of us met at The Ability Hub to explore, as Cindy and Jackie said, how “back up plans and back up moms” have helped them to creatively build a village of support through a foundation of friendship.

Cindy and Jackie said that they met, “when their sons were at Renfrew” and that “they’ve been supporting each other for a long time.” As Cindy says, “there’s been no judgment in our parenting styles and our friendship is all about what we need for each other. We’ve always thought we needed a village—that we had to create a village to get through the years and all of the different issues that have come up.” 

Jackie adds, “we moved to Calgary from another province; we had no extended family here so we had to create our own village.” Indeed, Jackie explains how her and Cindy have “supported each other through physical illness, as well as, cared for each other’s’ families. We’ve done that for each other and it’s been amazing, because you don’t have those supports, necessarily.”

However, both Cindy and Jackie said that neither their strong friendship nor their son’s’ came easy: “you have to work really, really hard to help your kids establish friendships and to maintain yours.”

Jackie describes that “initially we put in a lot of effort to help our boys connect because friendships and social skills are the most challenging thing for them—that is, trying to help them establish friendships and feel like they have a connection with that person; sometimes it was just putting them in the same room together and putting toys on the floor.” But, as both Cindy and Jackie agree, “if you find someone or a family you can connect with, you can support each other and it’s worthwhile to put in the effort—particularly if you can find a child who could be a friend for your child as well.”

Cindy and Jackie explained that they were able to find a Karate program that was a great support for Alex and Matt: “we’d meet up on Saturday mornings and have coffee and a visit or walk our dogs while the kids were in Karate. It’s like building in respite support at the same time.” Both Cindy and Jackie said that they especially value the friendship that they had when they are having a hard time: “If we get stuck we have each other to bounce ideas off of.”

As parents, Cindy and Jackie said that they have worn the hat of detective, translator, and consultant, and in so doing, have discovered some resourceful strategies and “creative ways to support” their sons. Some of these strategies include placing their son’s’ unique needs as central, recognizing resistance as an opportunity for creativity, using car rides for difficult discussions, trusting that they know their sons best, and showing appreciation to the people who work with and support their sons.

Cindy and Jackie noted that, while they cannot prepare their sons for every unknown, they place their son’s’ unique needs at the center and emphasize that “when their sons’ dig their heels in, there is something big going on—that resistance means something.” Further, Jackie explains that “some people say, if you throw them in and they fail, that’s a way to learn; but with children with anxiety or on the spectrum . . . it’s not necessarily a good thing.” Both Cindy and Jackie explained how they used these moments of resistance, as a sign that their sons needed a new strategy, more brainstorming, or a different accommodation at school or home.

Further, they highlighted the importance of making their own “mistakes more obvious for” their sons to see, so that they are more inclined to face uncertainty: “they need to know that people make mistakes, everybody makes mistakes, and we’re still alive. Sometimes they don’t even want to try stuff because they don’t know what’s going to happen; we just say, “come on let’s go, let’s just see what happens.”

And when they need to talk about upcoming transitions and changes, Cindy said that they have both found that “driving in the car is the best place to talk to [their sons] and to brainstorm; that’s where we do all the difficult discussions.”

Additionally, Cindy and Jackie both emphasized when “we show appreciation to the people who are working with our kids, they will go the extra mile to get to know our kids. Because sometimes our kids are a little prickly, so you really have to get to know them.”

In supporting unique approaches and strategies for their sons, Cindy and Jackie noted that their sons have started to “develop these strategies on their own.” For instance, one day when Jackie was picking up her son, Matt, from school he paused before getting in the front seat to hug their family dog in the back seat and then said: “if I’ve had a bad day, Mom, all I need is a hug from Lobo.”

Cindy and Jackie’s strong friendship has allowed their families to connect and both of their boys have not only become comfortable spending time in another home, but also have learned new things like, cooking, sarcasm, and social skills through family visits and get-togethers. As well, Cindy and Jackie indicated that they “have partners who are very involved and very supportive: they are either right there with us pushing for what the boy’s need or they are saying, I will support you in any way that I can.”

To nourish their own individual health and wellness, Cindy says that she enjoys daily exercise and reading, Jackie loves yoga and they both enjoy “lots and lots of chocolate and red wine”; together they try to fit in a social pedicure with each other when possible: “both of us have realized that in finding resources for our kids, we’ve had to find resources for ourselves too; we’ve needed to build those supportive relationships and networks as well.”

Cindy said that the suggestions from the “launch program helped to reinforce our experience—that we need a community. It gave us validation, that “we aren’t doing it wrong.” Jackie added that like the workshop said, “our kids did get pushed off a cliff when they graduated high school; we were excited about grad and surviving diplomas, and then you kind of go, ‘now what? now what?’” Integrating themes and strategies similar to those in Launch, Cindy and Jackie have supported their son’s in their most current transition to post-secondary and employment, and have utilized the visioning exercise, goal setting, and resources in Launch to help think about other transitions, decisions, and goals that they would like to support their sons in, in the future. More than anything, the Launch workshop gave these friends an opportunity to sit back and say “holy smokes, we’ve survived some of this stuff, and we’ve survived it together.”

Interview conducted by Whitney Balog, University of Calgary, MSW student

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