Mildred was married to a wonderful man.  However, his philosophy was that she should answer to him at all times, in all things.  “My husband is like the dog that our family had when I was a child.  We also had a cat.  The dog wanted the cat with him at all times.  When he took a nap, he would pick up the cat by the neck and carry the cat to the spot that he would be sleeping.  Then he would put his arm over the cat so that the cat could not move.”  Mildred laughed, “It wasn’t that the dog loved the cat so much.  He was just afraid that the cat was going to go somewhere and have fun without him.”

I’ve found that a lot of relationships are like that.  Within the mentally challenged community, there are times that the child who is disable will adopt this dog mentality in regard to their parents.  It isn’t that the child loves the parent so much that she can’t be away from them.   They are merely afraid that the parents will have fun somewhere without them.  The parents have no wiggle room.

Parents, often, understand that this relationship has formed and recognize that it is unhealthy.  Yet, they feel stuck.  Moreover, they may not know what to do about it.  “Sam wants to be with me every minute.  I need a break.  I love him but 24/7 is too much,”  Marlene, Sam’s mom, confessed.  She had gone back to work to try to help Sam to adjust without her constant presence. But by the time she became employed again, Sam’s life was set in these unhealthy patterns.

This is the reason that Special Gathering is not a parent-oriented organization.  Of course, we want to have parent involvement but too often mom and dad need a break. Additionally, if our program is on Sunday mornings, parents can attend the worship services at their church.  Therefore, we don’t encourage parents to come if their need is for a time apart.  “Thank you, ” Marlene said, after pulling me aside the day after camp, “I cannot tell you how much I needed this wiggle room.”

Wiggle room is vital for everyone–especially parents of disabled children who have developed the doggie syndrome of “You Can’t Have Fun Without Me.”