Why doesn’t anyone prepare you well for parenting? It might very well be the most important job that you have in your whole life, yet we all enter mostly unequipped, and wing it as we go. I have a Master’s degree in my career, but for parenting, I have only “some idea” how to do it. This doesn’t bode well with my anxious nature. It just doesn’t fly. I need to know exactly what to do, and how and when to do it! This is making me crazy, but thank God, despite the terribly uncomfortable process of it all, I am able to see that failing, suffering, and hurting are not the endpoint. Rather, they make up a passage to growth, health, and stability. The very lesson I need to allow my kids to learn, I need to learn myself.
Easier said than done.
My job is to be their protector.
How can it possibly be OK if I fail at that?
But I have to fail in order to learn what doesn’t work.
I have to do it gracefully. For myself and for them.
I can admit that I failed. Accept it. Then grow.
I want to protect my children, but I have to let them go.
I have to let them fail.
I have to set boundaries that mean letting them feel unloved in moments, that will ultimately show them how loved they are in the long run.
This issue with control… I am still working on it.
Earlier This Week
Earlier this week, my heart broke a bit for Lucas. The children at daycare speak well. They play with each other. He winds up playing alone. When I arrived to pick him up, several classmates were yelling cheerfully, “Lucas! Your mom is here. It’s time to go!” I wanted so much for my son to be able to participate verbally in their attempt at communicating with him, so I prompted him to say bye to his classmates. Bye. A word that takes a lot of thought, effort, and cooperation from Lucas to get. Greetings and departures frequently result in Lucas backing away and partaking in problem behaviors. I have learned better than to force this. But, this particular day, I thought, “let’s try.” I saw in my head the possibility. Lucas says bye, his peers realize they can interact with him, and want to start pursuing relationship with him more regularly. Back to reality. Reluctantly, but willing to put himself out there, Lucas said in his deep, somewhat raspy voice, “Bye!” We looked excitedly at the at the child closest to us. Lucas awaited his friend’s response, and in my head, all I could think was I hope the kid responds happily, to reinforce to Lucas that saying bye to friends is a socially acceptable, and possibly pleasant, experience. And in that moment, that I had so much hope in, the little boy near us responded to my son’s attempt by mocking Lucas’ voice. The child yelled “BYE” in a raspy deep voice imitating Lucas. He may have done it one or two more times, and I don’t know why but it killed me a little inside. I wanted so badly to make sure that Lucas didn’t get his feelings hurt, or start to form this opinion of himself that he wasn’t as worth making friends with than other kids are. I wanted to make it all “better.” I don’t even know if Lucas heard the boy’s imitation. He showed no outward appearance of it, but I hurt for what might be inside. Rejection due to difference. What will this look like as life goes on, when I am not present to immediately distract, defend, or console him?
Let’s be real. This is definitely me being hyper-sensitive for my son. But, I kept control of myself and allowed Lucas to experience the moment without being tainted by my feelings. It was one of those experiences that will, unfortunately, likely occur many more times throughout his life. He has to learn to cope, and all I can do is be his stable safe place, and pray he finds his way in this social aspect of life. Everybody needs to feel loved, important, special, cared for. I so desperately hope he will know this in some special peers one day. For now, I will have joy that he has it in his home.
I’ve tried to stop both my boys from ever having to go through disappointment in many ways. Even though I prided myself on giving them every opportunity to develop healthily, in actuality, I intervene far too often. Have I failed them in that way? I have intervened many times in the way Omar speaks to and interact with friends. I have forced kindness, sharing, nice words. These things are important but he’s got to learn they’re important on his own. I have also witnessed other kids treat my son with no such values, and I have to let him sort his way through these experiences to learn for himself that the world is not as kind as I try to teach him to be. I have to let my kids build their sibling relationship. That includes, letting Omar get beat up here and there by his brother to learn to stand up for himself. It means, not trying to micromanage every moment. It means letting them fail. That is so much easier said than done. And in this, I find my own opportunities to fail and grow as a mother and a person. How I handle my own failures will be the model they base their own reactions to failure from. So, I must learn to fail gracefully, openly, humbly, honestly, and grow.
A Complicating Factor
Lucas’ needs have been intense from day one. He had a kidney issue before he was born, spent his early days in the NICU, then went on to brain surgery, recovery, and an autism diagnosis. I don’t want anymore suffering for him. I think that is fair to say. But, I tend to take that overboard. I want to be there in every moment to prevent the suffering. Survival mode is all I’ve known for years now. Trials have been a steadfast theme for us. I know there is much beauty in parenting, but in honesty, it feels like suffering sometimes. And that is OK. It doesn’t make me a bad mother to feel from time to time like this is too hard. I just can’t stay stuck in the mindset that the struggles are the endpoint.
I’ve allowed myself to become ridden with guilt, fueling a desperate need to make up for Omar what I have felt has been lost for him. Specifically, this has included a mother absent on occasions, physically, due to his sibling’s health needs, and mentally, due to my own loss of control of my emotions. But, it is perfectly OK for him to see the human side of me. I can’t let him believe that we all have to hold it all together perfectly all the time. I want Omar to have happy regular experiences, to enjoy things without having to stop and wait while we adapt things to the way his brother needs. I have allowed myself to fall into the idea that somehow these things have taken away from his happiness. In reality, my kids’ happiness comes from having a mom and dad who love them, no matter what, who persevere, and who support them no matter what. I hope he has been able to see that we overcome things together as a family. We don’t have to be this perfect cookie cutter family for my kids to feel loved.
My family does have many special needs, but consequently, we also have many special rewards. My boys have an extra special relationship. Their bond is tight and unique. We are able to celebrate with each other, as we figure out, as a family, how to modify a situation for all of us to find joy in it. We are in this together, and our family is extra special that way. We root for each other. We accept each other. Yes, we have special responsibilities, special worries, special appointment and therapies, but we have special unity from going through this together. My husband and I have to have a special marriage to handle it. What we have has been tested, and resulted in a more intense commitment and flexibility. Each member in our family has been able, at one point or another, to take on an extra special role when another of us was starting to fall. Together, we will enjoy this path, and not give in to the temptations of fear, division, and sadness. The intimate level in which we get to know the intricacies of Lucas’ personality, has caused us all to examine our own, and has given us the potential to pull out the best qualities to move forward with. Figuring it all out together strengthens us.
Somewhere through this parenting journey, I convinced myself that my children’s potential to be happy in life was directly proportionate to me preventing any possible damage that can happen, mentally, socially, and physically. That is not how things were meant to be. I had to accept that, to release that. Because, their true growth and happiness come from feeling the triumph of overcoming a struggle. It happens in getting their feelings hurt by peers, but knowing that doesn’t define them. It is occurring when falling off a swing set, maybe more than once, teaches danger, through natural consequences. They flourish as they learn from their own mistakes and failures. If I rob them from every opportunity to experience hurt, pain, loneliness, boredom, and failure, then I fail them. But, failure is winning, if you keep your perspective humble and open to change when needed.
So, here’s to the journey. May I be unashamed of failure, change, and letting go. Here’s to overcoming the challenges within myself, and to being an example to my kids that in the end, love, humility, and stability will always be found when they are with me. May they grow to know that the hardest parts of life sometimes lead to the best relationships, opportunities, and to growth and healing.