Welcome to Our Country
Jayne N. Schiff, CLU®, ChFC®, CAP®
There is a poem by Emily Kingsley called “Welcome to Holland” that reflects what it is like to be the mother of an autistic child. In essence, she says is that when you are pregnant with your child, you read all of the books about parenting and perfect children and then your child is born with special needs and everything is different. Those of you who may have read the poem know that it relates to getting on a plane to take a vacation to Italy and when the plane lands the flight attendant says “Welcome to Holland”. It’s an equally beautiful country – just not the one you packed and prepared for.
Those of us who are agents are taught how to meet with families and help them to plan their future financial goals. For most families, what we know from our training works. But for these special needs families, life is very different and each family has a different reaction to what they are now living with. Some families are very open to discussing the issues they now face. Many, on the other hand, are so overwhelmed with what has become their lives, that they are resistant to discuss the issues they face – now and in the future. The future seems very far away and no different than the present.
Many families have years of experience and yet still are just barely keeping it together emotionally. They may be blaming themselves for why their child wasn’t just like the books told them it would be. Some carry so much guilt that they don’t want to discuss their family with outsiders. Other families are struggling with the everyday needs of the special needs person and working with the people who provide the daily services.
Discussing how to set up Special Needs Trusts and making provisions that are sound and do not conflict with what the special needs person can get from various non-profit and governmental agencies in subsidies at the parents death can be a very sensitive subject. As advisers working with these families, we need to put ourselves into the world they are living and be empathetic to the caregivers needs. Sometimes we get so carried away with the “track” we are on that we forget to stop, breath, smell the air and look at our prospect family and see how they are reacting to what we are saying.
Next time you meet with a special needs family, whether it be one with young children or special needs adults, remember to find out how they are reacting to their situation before you tell them how to meet their future needs. Unless you personally have lived this, it is difficult to see what they are facing – but do try.