This is going to be a serious post, because last night I heard some bad news. The husband of an acquaintance has had a breakdown, after suffering from depression for a long time.
This was particularly sad, because this couple have three young children, one of whom is autistic. It was also devastating because it was the second friend who has suffered that experience in just a few years, another having been left as a single mother to four children, one autistic.
Earlier this week I mentioned Charlotte Moore's book George and Sam which chronicles life with two autistic sons...and a third who doesn't have autism. Her ex-husband too, suffered serious mental health issues.
It is interesting that in each of these cases it is the father who has suffered the most and I wondered why. When you discover your child is not 'normal', whatever that means, there is always a period of grieving to go through, grief for the child you once expected. Denial is a normal and recognised part of that. Some parents get through the stage of denial and on to the all important acceptance of the child and the problem much faster than others. Some never quite make it.
Mothers still tend to be the primary providers of childcare. This has good and bad sides. They are more involved with the professionals working with their children and therefore tend to be more knowledgeable about what help is on offer and what needs to be done to get it, as sadly we have to fight for that help only too often. They probably have more opportunities to meet other parents in the same position. I am sure it is no coincidence that our support group coffee mornings are almost exclusively attended by mums. On the other hand, they probably have far more exposure to 'normally' developing children and the comparison with their own offspring can be very painful.
Fathers tend to suffer alone. They may be ashamed to tell friends and work colleagues about their child's problems. They just don't have the same external support networks as we do. They may feel inadequate because this, unlike a DIY task, is not something they can put right and they may be struggling to keep the family afloat financially on one salary. They may be embarrassed to be seen with their child and are perhaps more likely to be influenced by cultural attitudes to disability.
Part of motherhood, for most women, is putting your child's needs before your own. We tend to have a primeval instinct to look after our children and accept the compromises that can involve. If we feel we are not coping we are more likely to consult our GP. Many women with special needs children are, or have been, on anti-depressants and that is nothing to be ashamed of. Men, on the other hand, may just adopt what I call the 'head in the sand' approach, that if you don't acknowledge something it will go away. Perhaps they really are the weaker sex because they can't ease the burden by sharing as women do.
I'm clutching at straws here. I don't know the answer. I just know that in this respect I have so far been lucky, unlike my two friends who are now struggling to cope with their children effectively alone.
Three notable things will return next time!