I just wrote to a friend that I believed that every family should be blessed with a child that struggles, whether because of physical, cognitive, or emotional challenges. I know that sounds crazy in a world that strives for perfection and ease; a world that is so focused on outward appearances. Where does the idea of being blessed by something hard fit in?
I've been thinking about this idea a lot recently. I've written before about how certain parenting challenges have changed me. In the words of E. Nesbit, these challenges have rubbed off some of my rough edges. They have made me a nicer, more understanding, more accepting person. (I fully realize that there are more rough edges that need to go.) I thought I was compassionate and understanding when life was easy. I was wrong.
Here is the root of the so called Mommy Wars. Too many people think they're compassionate and understanding, but they are wrong because they haven't lived through hard. One of the most compassionate places I frequent on the internet is the group for parents who are parenting hard children. You might think that these people would be so worn down by their experiences that they would have little patience or time for anything but the raw emotion that comes with living through your nightmares. And sometimes that's true. But more often than not, what this group of parents excels at is compassion and understanding. It is a place where people can share the worst... the kind of thing that you don't share with anyone because it sounds too bad... and instead of making the parent feel worse, they rally around and support that struggling parent.
If more of us had more of our rough edges smoothed, the world would be a nicer place. It would mean that a struggling mom would have just a slightly easier road, because worrying about how she is perceived by others just wouldn't be a concern.
If you have ever wondered how a special needs parent does it, understand that we are different. We are different from parents who do not have this experience. But also please understand that we were not different before we began this journey. We didn't think we could do it. We didn't understand how others did it. For many of us, our first experience parenting a child who struggles was not our choice, but came in a child who arrived that way; a child we were expecting to be typical. And we were changed. We began to see things differently. We began to see people differently. We began to see life differently. Things that used to be important, suddenly weren't, and little things we used to take for granted became big deals. Sure life was in some ways harder, but it was deeper, richer, and paradoxically easier. When you stop living your life to impress others, there is incredible freedom, and for many parents of children with special needs, worrying about impressing others was quickly jettisoned. There just wasn't time.
Yes, we are different, but only because we became that way through our experiences. The experiences came first.
Back to that struggling mother, for whom this is all so new and hard and scary. You will get through it. Your children will get through it. And you will be changed. While much of raising hurting children is hard, the unexpected gift is the new compassion and freedom which will be yours.