The Story of How One Mother Learned How To Let Go
By Bonnie Heath
The hurdles of letting go – it is a necessary hurdle and an extremely hard one to do. We play the “WHAT IF “game and paralyze ourselves and our children. There are two times in our lives when we have a phenomenal amount of growth – the first is when we are a toddler – learning how to walk, to talk, to feed ourselves, and that we are a separate human being – unique unto ourselves. The next is when we move into our own homes. We learn what it is like to be an independent adult – looking after ourselves, learning all the responsibilities that go with living on our own, making decisions about our lives – learning that we are truly a separate and complete human being.
In that vein, I am a mother of a young woman with Down syndrome. This opportunity in life is not available to her- she can’t live on her own. It was my belief that Jenny must live with me, so I could protect her and make sure she does what is right for her.
“He had no friends, no life outside of his parents”
However, I read an article in the newspaper when she was about 18 years old. A couple was going to pick up their son at his day program. It was a bad snowy winter day, they had a car accident and were killed instantly. Their son waited at the day program for them to pick him up, but they didn’t come. The couple were in their mid to late 80’s and the son was in his late 50’s. He had never lived anywhere else except his parents’ home. He had always been “taken care of”. Now his life was thrown into total and complete chaos. He could no longer live in his parents’ home, his only brother lived in another province and made the best arrangements he could make. Luckily at the time he was able to get into a group home. But he was completely miserable – he had no friends, no life outside of his parents, who also had become very secluded because into their 80’s they were still looking after their son.
After reading this article, the image plagued me. How could I do this to my daughter? At some point I will die and if I don’t prepare her for her own life now – what would happen to her? This was the turning point for me. I started looking for a way to help Jenny live on her own. I began to educate myself on what was available, which wasn’t much. There were extremely long waitlists for any kind of government funded housing, and was it something WE wanted? I heard of some parents that were doing things on their own. This idea intrigued me – so a group of us started Scarborough Residential Alternatives. I gave it 2 years to plan, educate and have my daughter living on her own. We made a budget: the amount of money that she received from ODSP and then SSAH was her income. How much could she afford for rent, food, support and day activities? If you are a parent then you know how much that is – so she couldn’t live by herself, and it wasn’t really what she wanted anyway. So with the idea of sharing an apartment, we began looking at rents in our area.
We finally found a place that would work. There were two individuals and Jenny wanting to live together, and we signed the lease on July 13, 2009. Everything was good, the place was within walking distance from my home, we had done our homework, we had the budget, and we had a plan of slowly moving her in. What could go wrong?
This was not about me and my doubts. It was about a young lady who was capable and deserved a life of her own.
Well, something life shattering happened the week she was to move in, something that proved to me that this whole idea was foolish, and the dumbest idea I ever had in my life. What was I thinking???? Again, I am a mother of a child with Down syndrome! She can’t move into her own place. This was proof. We can’t do it. We will have to sublet, we will manage somehow! Then I remembered what started this whole process – the parents who died unprepared, the son whose life was shattered. This was not about me and my doubts. It was about a young lady who was capable and deserved a life of her own – not living with an old woman and the two becoming isolated, and resentful. So we moved forward, with a determination that this was going to work –NO MATTER WHAT!
Three and a half years later – I have fewer and fewer doubts. Jenny is thriving. She loves living in her own home, being responsible for herself, taking care of her home and learning to live with people her own age and who are not her family. She has friends, she helps in her community and is learning to speak for herself.
By the way, the earth shattering thing that caused that last minute panic? I don’t remember what it was! Looking back she probably sneezed.
Our children are capable, they can live on their own – it will definitely be different then when they lived at home, but that is the way life should be.