Julie Riera Matsushima shares what she's learned about grandparenting a child with special needs from her granddaughter Aimee.

A few months ago, I received an email about For the Love of Aimee, a memoir written by the grandmother of a girl with special needs. My ears perked up immediately because the topic of extended family members doesn’t get nearly enough press in the special needs world. So I read the book eagerly, but decided against doing a book review.

Instead, I asked author Julie Riera Matsushima if she would write a guest blog for DifferentDream.com and share a grandparent’s perspective directly with readers. To my delight, Julie agreed. In today’s post, she talks about the importance of being loving parents to children who are  parents of kids with special needs. In tomorrow’s post, she’ll share what’s she’s learned about grandparenting a child with special needs.

Grandparenting a Child with Special Needs: Being a Loving Parent First

Becoming a grandparent wasn’t an especially attractive proposition for me at the time.  I was excited but I knew I wasn’t going to be one of those over-indulging grandmothers carrying around a mini-photo album of the grandkids in my purse to show everyone I knew.   No, that was not for me!  I was a career business woman, and community activist and wasn’t interested in playing that role.  I had raised my kids and was finally at a place where I could enjoy all life had to offer.

I Became One of Those Grandmothers

But what I didn’t know then was that I would, in fact, become one of those grandmothers.  Not to the extreme, but certainly to the point that the love in my heart for my grandchildren would consume me in time.  I would become overwhelmed with joy, grief and pride especially when it came to Aimee, my special needs granddaughter and her identical twin sister, Chloe.  Aimee’s presence in my life would change it forever and take me on an unexpected journey–a journey that would lead me to inspire and encourage other grandparents to do the same.

It hasn’t always been easy, though, because the first challenge as a grandparent, of course, is dealing with your own children—the parents of your beloved grandchild.   This can present challenges in the best of circumstances, but when it involves a child with a disability, illness or special needs, it presents a dramatic change of circumstances.  My experience has been that some grandparents, like me, get very involved while others, to the dismay and disappointment of their children, never become involved at all.  In fact, many avoid involvement with the special needs child and focus on the “normal” children in the family where relationships and activities are more familiar to what we expect ourselves to do as grandparents.  It definitely takes courage to step up and become involved with the special needs child.

Remain a Loving and Caring Parent

First and foremost, your children need your help and support.   You must demonstrate that you remain a loving and caring parent to them.  This is where parenting the parents is a delicate balance of showing your love and support, while at the same time maintaining love and advocacy for your special needs grandchild.  Life can be difficult for these young parents.  They have had to learn to cope with a situation they didn’t expect.  They may feel abandoned and isolated by family and friends.  But, for me, it was an opportunity to provide guidance and wisdom and to lead by example.  That a good parent never abandons their child–no matter what difficulties they face.  So, it begins there–setting the example of a parent with love, support and commitment to your child.  And then as a loving and involved grandparent to their child.

This has been my approach from the beginning.   I have paid my dues by exhibiting my commitment to being involved in Aimee’s life through thick and thin and it has paid off.   I have earned the respect and trust of my children, Aimee’s parents, by being consistent and steadfast in my commitment to help.  We don’t always agree, but they listen when I have something important to say.  Aimee doesn’t have a voice of her own and they know I advocate for her with love in my heart.

Step In and Step Up to the Job at Hand

When times are difficult for them, they know they can always on us, the grandparents,  to step in and step up to the job at hand.  I’ve probably become more involved than most by taking Aimee across the world for extended therapy, but I could just as easily be a grandmother who could offer that support by taking her to a therapist across town.  The end result is the same; a demonstration of love and support.  Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be that.  How about a simple respite for a few hours?

Win a Free Copy of the Book

Julie has generously donated three copies of For Love of Aimee for a book giveaway. To enter the drawing to win one of the copies, leave a comment about how grandparents are involved in your child’s life. The cut off date for comments is midnight on Monday, July 11, 2011.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of Julie’s guest post. And to learn more about Julie, visit her website at www.juliematsu.com.

Part 2

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