Have you ever played poker? Maybe you’ve played recreationally, as I have, perhaps using tokens, matchsticks, or chocolates for the ‘stake’? Maybe you’re a more serious poker player, with higher level stakes? Or maybe you’ve never played the game at all… this blog post isn’t about the rights or wrongs of playing cards… but whatever your experience of the game, there is a lot about poker that is very much like additional needs parenting:
We have to accept the cards we’re dealt
Just like in a game of poker, we usually don’t know what ‘hand’ we’ve been dealt until it arrives (realising that in a minority of cases some parents do know in advance). It might be at the moment of birth that we realise that our child has a disability or other additional needs, or it might be later on, or as the years go by. In the game, we might add to the cards we hold, just as in additional needs parenting our child may add to their list of conditions. James, my 15-year-old, was diagnosed as Autistic and with Learning Disability aged 2½, however last year he added Epilepsy to his list, and we are currently awaiting an assessment for Anxiety Disorder.
In the game, we make the very best of the hand we’re dealt, and as additional needs parents we make the very best of all that our children are, and help them be all that they can be. We creatively look to encourage them and support them; we strive and fight to access the services and resources that they need. We accept them for who they are and love them unconditionally through it all.
Each day, sometimes several times a day, we can also get dealt a fresh hand. No two hands are the same and we never know whether the next one will be a ‘Royal Flush’ (see later) or just a random collection of cards. But we take the hand anyway and play our best game together with it.
We can’t ‘fold’
In the game, you can ‘fold’, or chuck your cards in, ending your participation in that round of the game. As additional needs parents we know we can’t do that no matter how hard it gets, and sometimes it gets very hard indeed; we know we’ve got to keep going. Our children need us, depend on us, and for their sake we sacrifice everything to be there for them, still ‘in the game’ for their sake.
We get to play with experts and novices
Some of the people we play the additional needs parenting ‘poker game’ with are like us, parents that are trying the very best for their kids, making the most of the hand they have been dealt. Others are professional ‘players’ who help and support those of us that struggle to understand the rules. There might be friends, children’s workers, and others who watch the game or help us out, but there are also the ‘card sharks’ who sometimes seem to be looking for ways to critisise our way of playing the game, looking for opportunities to say we’re breaking the rules and should be playing it their way instead.
We show our best poker faces
Additional needs parents are experts at showing our best ‘poker face’. Sometimes when someone asks us how things are, it’s just easier to put our poker face on and say, “it’s fine”, rather than to try and explain to someone what life as an additional needs parent can be like. It can be just as hard retelling the truth of how the day has gone to a horrified listener who has absolutely no frame of reference for our story, than it was to live it the first time! We might let our poker faces slip a little when talking with other additional needs parents though, people on the same road who have experienced what we’re going through, who just ‘get it’.
Sometimes we get a Royal Flush
And some days we get dealt a ‘Royal Flush’ (see the picture at the top of this blog post), the best hand in poker. It just all goes well and, on those days, in those moments, it’s great to be thankful for them. The term ‘Royal Flush’ has another meaning in our house too, for when the evening routine for James has all gone smoothly and easily with the five ‘cards’ being ‘poo’, ‘bath’, ‘hair wash’, ‘teeth cleaned’, ‘bed’ (at a decent time). Whatever a ‘Royal Flush’ means for you, they are good moments when they come.
The game never ends
Some poker games can go on for hours, days even… Additional needs parenting is for life, the game never ends, until either we, or in some cases our child, pass on. Until then, we play the game to the best of our ability using all the skills, gifts and experience we’ve got. We help new ‘players’ to understand the game and how to play it well… And despite the days when we’re dealt a terrible hand, when it just all goes wrong, the days when we get a good hand and it all goes well make up for it and make it the best ‘game’ ever!
The Bible doesn’t talk much about playing cards, although it is generally disapproving of gambling (again, not a debate for this blog post), but in Proverbs 13:11 there is a reference that perhaps gives us a final, important, link between poker and additional needs parenting:
“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”
As the wealth of our knowledge of our children and their additional needs builds, day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year; as we gather understanding, as we grow in love, so we see the fruit of all of that in the relationship we have with our child… and that is fruit that is everlasting!
Ready for another hand?
1st March 2018
Image rights: Header © unknown, secondary © authors own
Bible references: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers