At 4am I was sat on the sofa with a cuppa when I felt a small hand slide itself into mine. Kiddo had climbed up next to me, taken my arms and wrapped them around him. He wanted a cuddle. I’ve had this experience a few times in the last 3 years or so, but it’s not an everyday occurrence. Each time I get this chance to hold him I breathe him in, feeling genuinely honoured that he will allow me to hold him like I did when he was a baby. In that moment I think its fair to say that i felt a rush, a real surge of elation. It was love. But as we sat there I started to wonder what true love really is between a parent and child. In the media this relationship is portrayed as exceptionally romantic. Father and son playing football together, mother and daughter out shopping (or some other terribly stereotypical image, personally I liked to play basketball with my Dad). But what is true love in the real world? How do you show true love when your child has an aversion to hugs, kisses or any other show of affection that us neurotypicals are used to?
We dont have to feel that rush of elation to really love someone to the point it makes our heart split in two. True love is about doing whatever is best for that person and expecting nothing in return. In many cases where a parent has a child with SEND, it may even mean experiencing a lack of affection, violence and retaliation or even just a disregard for a parent’s feelings. But you carry on regardless, meeting their needs and offering your love, hanging on everyday for just a glimpse of appreciation for you. Just a twinkle in their eye that says, “I love you”. You long to know that deep down they’re as besotted with you as you are them, but you carry on knowing that it may never come.
The heartbreak that this unrequited love delivers is indescribable. There are many disabilities where a child may show extreme contempt for one or both parents. Pathological Demand Avoidance and Smith Magenis syndrome being just a couple (of course this is not true of every child with these conditions). But how do you form a positive relationship with someone who you spent all your life just assuming would love you back? That when the time came for you to meet them they would simply look into your eyes and that connection would instantly be made?
The truth is you don’t. It’s a totally different kind of relationship. And it’s so much more than love. It’s one hundred percent commitment to give your all to someone who may give nothing back. It’s your overwhelming unconditional desire to help that person be the best they can be, make sure they never go without something they need and to keep the safe from harm as much as you can. You absorb the physical violence, the hurtful words, the insults and the repetitive attempts to hurt you, and you never show the damage this does to your insides. How it chips away at your soul every single day.
And everyday is filled with hope. The hope that you’ll receive just that tiniest recognition for all that you do every single day. Whether it be a smile or a hug, or even a request that Mummy gets you a drink today instead of Daddy, or vice versa. And when it comes the relief is like being drenched in a fresh cold ocean wave on a boiling hot day. And it’s enough. It’s enough to reset you and restore your reserves until the next time that tiny show of affection comes.
But even if it doesn’t, even if that smile from them never appears, I’m telling you now that they love you with all their heart. Even if they don’t realise it. They’re safe with you and they know this. They’re scared and in front of you all this emotion, anxiety and frustration is able to come out without retaliation. Somewhere locked away is a small safe in their heart with a piece of love just for you, they just might not know how to open it yet. But as a parent, that doesn’t matter. You just have to know it’s there and hope one day it gets opened. Until then, keep on doing what you’re doing. Because you love them more than life itself. And that’s true love.
Thanks for reading,