Why *This* Makes Us Better

I originally posted this back in March of last year. But I have been chatting privately with one mother via email lately, and it reminded me of this post.

With other kids at home, it is often that our "maternal" instinct turns to attempt to protect them from the pain of having a challenging sibling. As special needs parents, we worry about ALL of our kids.

So, I am posting this today for all of you to reflect on why this journey has made us better people, better parents, and better mothers to ALL of our kids.

Here it is:

I say all the time that being a special needs mom makes me a better parent for my other kids. It also makes me a better person. Here is why I think that--no actually, here is why I KNOW that.

I am less judgmental. I used to think I knew it all about parenting—you know—how I “would do it” if it was my kid. How I wouldn’t let my kid ever do that: How in Fred Meyer, I would never let my kid demand candy or how I would NEVER let my kid have a pacifier at age 3 (god forbid older!). Now, when I see parents, doing things that I don’t necessary *understand*, instead of being judgmental, I can realize that maybe, just maybe, those other parents do know what they are doing, and it is me who doesn’t get it. You know, maybe that kid has SPD and without the pacifier to keep himself calm and organized there a giant fit--and the parents haven't gotten a diagnosis yet. Who knows, right?

I am a better problem solver
. It is amazing how after five years of “teaching” problem solving skills, how KEENLY aware I am of how to solve problems. With my other kids, with my friends, with my husband. I am not always great at it—meaning I am still human and can totally miss someone else’s view, but after a few years of Collaborative Problem Solving practice I am for the first time, truly able to understand how it is possible to have a win-win solution. That can do wonders for your marriage, and I am really counting on it being helpful for the teenager years, especially with Nick.

I am a better friend. I have learned the true meaning of listening. After so many years of talking to people who flat out didn’t understand my life (at a time that I really didn't either), I have learned that what I wanted from them was to be heard. I now am able to give that in return. So when I say, “My kid had a meltdown today and thrashed his room, threatened to kill me and then spent fifteen minutes crying so hard he couldn’t breathe” and my friend says, “Oh, my daughter has her first sleep over on Saturday!” I now know that she too wants the same thing as me—just simply to be heard. And I am actually able to do that for her.

I know what the real victories are in life. I think everyone says that you should really focus on the small victories every day. The reality is that is all I get, so that is exactly what I have learned to love. A perfectly written word is enough for real celebration--no joke man--pull out the party hats and bake a cake! A day without threatening any one is a true testament to my son’s ability to stay calm and organized and something that gives me great pride. Reading a book at grade level, having the sun out for us to get some Vitamin D, the fleeting moments where we are all sitting quietly at the table—those are what mean the most to me. I would never have been able to see this had it not been for this journey.

I am able to understand what it means to want your kids to be “happy”. Remember when you wanted your kid to be popular? Or play football? Or be a champion debater? Maybe you dreamed that he would attend your Alma Matter or have a great signing voice? What I know now, is that all I really want is for him to have *a* friend, for him to be able to *play* with other kids, that he be able to *get his point across* in a conversation without frustration. Now I dream that he will go to college—any college. I dream that he will find his *voice* wherever and whatever it may be. I truly know that I just want him to find happiness. True happiness in a place he belongs, with people who love him and a future that is only limited by his imagination.

I have learned not to rush my kids’ development. In retrospect I think it is so funny to know that I really wanted my kids to talk! Now, I just want them to stop. I think though that I do realize that all kids learn the skills they need in their own time. There is no more rushing speaking than there is rushing potty training. I actually *got* that by my third kiddo. I also know that skills have to actually be taught—for most of us—not just those on the spectrum. How many people do you know that inadvertently make social mistakes still as an adult? I think my husband’s most famous is, “Try the salsa Adrienne brought—it tastes better than it looks!” Ouch. We all do have to learn each thing—step by step—mistake by mistake.

I have learned not to compare my life to others. This is a lesson that is hard to learn--and I have to relearn it regularly. Life is strange--you begin by comapring everything you have or do to your peers—from an early age it was who had the best lunchbox, who had the coolest clothes, who had the best hair, who was the most athletic, who had the coolest car, who went to the best college, who got the best job, who made the most money, who had the best house, and so on and so on. The reality is that no matter what I can compare to others in my life—comparing my family, my kids, their accomplishments, my day to day life, my stress level, my ability to do most things—just simply doesn’t compare to the average family. It has been a process to attain this understanding, and I still have moments where I am simply pissed that I can't hop a plane to Italy--but Holland does grow on you. :)

I have learned that I would rather have my problems, than yours. As strange as it is to say, it is totally true. The reality is that no matter how much my problems suck, they are mine, and I do have a much better chance of solving them than I do of solving yours. As my husband says, “The grass is not greener on the other side, it is just a different shade of brown.” So true. That means that no matter how much I am struggling, no matter how hard my decisions are, or my day to day life, I am still happy that I am *me* and have my problems and my kids.

I am more compassionate. I have always been empathetic, and compassionate my whole life, but now, I can truly say I feel others' pain when I see them struggling on this journey. I think because for most people, the problems they solve or the things they overcome are truly "over". For me, those feelings of crisis, both old and new, are right on the surface every day. The feelings of watching your child struggling at school, of failing at friendship, of each little thing never go far away--they are always here. And one comment from a woman new to this journey and I am immediately there again emotionally. I see that as a gift: A way my journey can mean more.

I am able to teach my children empathy. Most people think that empathy is something you have--or don't have--but don't get that it is taught. Parents are often doing that "how would you feel if....?" thing with their kids, but I honestly don't think most of them could tell you why. I am clear on why we teach empthy, how to teach empathy, and because of my special needs kiddo, my other boys are forced to practice empathy daily--more often than they'd like. I think that is a blessing. A true added value to this whole thing--my boys are going to be good people--capable of seeing other's pain and perspective. They too will be better for this journey.

I have deeper connections with people. This is a strange one to explain, but when your children's health is first and foremost on your mind, every day, every hour, and every minute, you end up having to give more of yourself to each interaction because, well, you can't help it. We all start doing the opposite--we are afraid, we get closed off, we feel like no one understands, we become isolated and more. But at some point, you learn that your special needs kiddo is a defining trait of you. And as hard as it is to deal with, that too becomes who you are--a person who wears their heart on their sleeve everyday because to hold it in is just too painful. Then the beauty of all of that emotion comes out--you connect with people on a level that is amazing. Maybe at first, it is just those who also have special needs kiddos, but eventually it is everyone--your "pain" is seen as you being open and honest and people respond to that. They feel like they can immediately trust you with their "pain". And a deeper connection is born as they are able to be open for the first time.

I feel like I could go on and on about how this journey has shaped me for the better. How this journey has changed how I parent my NT (Neruo-Typical) kids and how it has made me a better wife, friend and person--not to mention mother--

I will conclude by asking you to spend this weekend focused on what the "journey" has *given* to you--I think you will be amazed that some of the greatest gifts come from what can seem like the worst situation.

H
Photo: A look back down the beach at our hotel in Mexico.

8 comments:

Shell said...

Wow, those are beautiful lessons. I'm not as far down the path as you are and was feeling today how much I SUCK as a mom for my oldest son b/c I have been so focused on my middle.

Hartley said...

Trust me Shell, you don't suck. :) I sincerely believe that this path, this special needs journey, will make us all better--even our *other* children. Hang in there girl, you're not alone!

Hartley

missouri flat travelers said...

well said

Heather B said...

well said!

Stacey,momof 2 said...

:) yup...

Caitlin Wray said...

This is so true Hartley. I've actually been working on a similar themed post for my blog, as each day this major shift in my life plan is revealed more and more as a blessing in disquise! The two years prior to Simon being diagnosed, I was so caught up in work, keeping the house clean, chaufeurring him to his lessons, harrassing our older son to do his homework and stop playing video games, then throw in having a baby... and looking back I wonder, where did all that time go? Two years is over 700 days... what did our family do with those 700 days? Now since Simon's challenges have peaked and been diagnosed, we have ALL slowed down. We are ALL taking time for each other, we are ALL cherishing our little family unit more than EVER before. In some ways, sure, it's harder, but mostly, it's more REAL. We live in the moment and plan for the future, rather than living in the future and planning for the moment.

Thanks for the wonderful post!

Jennifer said...

I look forward to more of these lessons too as I am only just beginning the journey. At this stage there is still so much guilt, far too much comparing and plenty of challenges with my ability to sympathize or empathize! Thanks for showing us newbies that there are always pockets of light! ~Jen

Hartley said...

Caitlin: I can realte to how fast time flies. It is truly a blessing to be able to slow down. To understand the meaning of "This too shall pass" and allow life to unfold instead of always pushing it along. Can't wait to read your post!

Jennifer: There are definitely pockets of light! They are often disquised or just flat out hiding, but they are there! LOL The road isn't easy, but the further along you get, the more clearly you will be able to see the value in the journey.

Thanks for reading!
Hartley