This is a big one for me. It weighs on my mind, a lot. At least once a week a friend, family member, or acquaintance will start airing frustrations to me about their kids and life and then catch themselves. I can hear them silently mentally scold themselves and then apologize to me for complaining about such insignificant things when I’ve been through so much heavier stuff. I want to be clear on this. Parenting is hard. Adulting in general is hard. Sometimes it’s really hard and borderline sucks. And that’s true for “parents who have been through stuff” and for parents who have “typical” situations (I use that world loosely as nothing is typical in parenting). Yes, we have been through a lot as a family. I have two kids with different special needs who both trade off being more or less functional depending on the day. I could write a few paragraphs about some of the stuff we deal with, but I’m not going to, because I’m not trying to win any “look how hard I have it” awards. The majority of the people around us know, to a lesser or greater extent, of the struggles we face and I’m writing this for those people.
I never want you to stop telling me your things…your parenting struggles…your life struggles…all of the things.
I like to think of how I handle situations in terms of how I would expect my kids to, since we generally hold our kids to higher expectations than we hold ourselves. I would never want either of my kids to get so wrapped up in self pity and tunnel visioning their own problems that they lose the ability to acknowledge others feelings and listen compassionately to a friend needing a good vent, regardless of if that vent is something small or big. If I ever heard my kid reply with “Well I’ve been through worse” I would resign myself to parenting failure status.
So how do I reinforce that expectation within myself?
I am trying to avoid at all costs the sometimes crisis-triggered self-centeredness that I feel lurking at the back of my mind trying to convince me to get caught up in my own problems and only my own problems. Over the last 9 years of my rocky parenting journey I have worked on containing and burying that tendency in various different ways until finally figuring out what works best for me. I keep it at bay by actively practicing perspective every day. Perspective is a funny thing. It keeps you in check. It keeps you grateful. Practicing perspective forces you to practice gratitude, which is the next piece of armour against self pity. Instead of starting my day with the negative perspective of how little sleep I got or how often either or both kid was up and how wrong all of the things were going for me, I’ve started writing down 5 reasons why I’m lucky that morning. There are always things to be grateful for, even if they’re as small as “I got to sleep in five minutes today,” or “my kiddo calmed down out of a meltdown ten minutes faster this morning compared to last week.” When I tell myself that, instead of “oh my gosh this happens every morning I can’t handle this why can’t things just be easy,” I force myself to acknowledge that it’s not all bad, and that yeah that morning may have sucked, but it was slightly better than before! It’s amazing what just switching a few paragraphs and thought patterns can do. Our perspective shapes us, and I refuse to wallow in the negativity of how hard and unfair life can be (because guess what, then my kids wallow too! monkey see, monkey do.)
The next important piece of perspective practicing for me is acknowledging how other’s perspectives are not my own. My tolerance threshold for parenting mishaps is admittedly on the higher end, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot become equally as frustrated with your kids as I can in an equally valid way. My husband’s perspective is not the same as mine even though we’ve been through the exact same thing. I am not holding the “Look at all of this shit I’ve been through with my kids” trophy. When you apologize to me and think your stuff pales in comparison, you’re passing me that trophy, and I frankly don’t want to carry it. You remind me of that little voice of selfishness at the back of my mind that keeps trying to convince me to have a pity party that I’ve built up this perspective and gratitude defense against because I don’t have any interest in being invited to that party. I am not a victim of my parenting or life situation, there is nothing else I’d rather be doing, even on the hard days… so please don’t treat me like my experiences are something to hold high as a beacon of strength when I’m doing the exact same thing you are with just a different perspective of it. I’m not mourning my parenting path, I’m always either celebrating or learning, and I’m happy to be here doing it regardless of how much I might jokingly complain. So tell me about all of the things going on for you. If you are venting to me, I clearly care about you. I care about how you feel. My struggles have not stripped my compassion, they have strengthened it. If they are not small things to you, they are not small things to me. When you are telling me your struggles I am not mentally ticking boxes off in my head of why I’m struggling more. As special needs parents (and just as people too!) we need to remember to keep our perspective. As soon as our perspective leaves, so do our people. When we stop showing up for our important ones with open eyes to their issues and only eyeball our own, they leave. When we compete with them and make them unheard and build up our issues into giant, heavy mountains (that not only weigh us down but everyone else around us too) instead of practicing perspective and gratitude, they leave. If you’re both sitting at a table that is so full of your own shit that none of theirs can fit, they will get up and leave that table. And you can’t blame them for doing so. I promise that I will not lose perspective and will keep showing up for my people regardless of what I have going on, because in reality, sometimes we are all just tired, frustrated parents and people going through the same stuff in one form or another, so please don’t ever stop venting to me.