Recently, my husband had surgery for prostate cancer. Not to worry. All is well and the procedure was a success. However, the process was grueling. It was a long s-l-o-w recovery filled with pain, exhaustion and pills – and that was just me – he had a hard time too!
During the long weeks of his recovery we watched a lot of TV. One afternoon a commercial for a cancer drug came on. It portrayed a woman with metastatic breast cancer going about her daily routine and she didn’t look sick. The weather was beautiful and she was out at the local farmer’s market buying organic fruits and vegetables. As she pedaled up to her lovely home with fresh cut flowers and produce in her wicker bike basket, a faithful golden retriever trotted up to greet her. When the commercial ended, my husband and I looked at each other like, REALLY? We were in the midst of dealing with a cancer diagnosis and our experience did not look anything like that! Although, in all fairness to the drug company, it did closely resemble the end of the commercial where they listed all of the horrible side effects…
THE COMPARISON TRAP
Have you ever felt this way in your experience as a special needs parent? Have you ever thought, ‘What a crock!’ I know I have. Let me set the scene. You are bone tired and emotionally exhausted from dealing with your child with <insert condition>. You pour yourself a cup of coffee, grab your phone and plant yourself on the couch to catch your breath. You login to social media and instead of feeling refreshed your heart sinks. Your neighbor’s son, same age as yours, has just gotten an academic achievement award in middle school and you’re still trying to teach yours how to tie his shoes. Your sister is off on a Disney vacation while your last attempt at a fun family outing resulted in your daughter melting down at McDonalds due to sensory overload. You are genuinely happy for your friends and family. They are good people. Supportive. Helpful. Loving. But all you want to do is unfollow their profiles because their ‘perfect’ life is painful to watch. STOP! Don’t fall into the comparison trap!
If I have learned anything on this special needs parenting journey it is this:
It is destructive and futile to compare our children to those of their typically developing peers.
That’s it. No other advice on the subject. No anecdotes. No inspirational quotes. Just a heartfelt plea for you to do yourself a favor and STOP! I cannot put it any clearer and I cannot stress it enough. If you can conquer this one temptation your special needs parenting journey will be 100 times easier. It will allow you to relax and enjoy your child for who he or she is.
THE UNHAPPINESS GAP
There is a theory that states that the space between our expectations and our experiences is called the unhappiness gap. In other words, how we think things should be and how they really are = our level of unhappiness in any particular situation.
So forget the shoulds. Don’t worry about what other people’s children are doing and when. And don’t get fooled by the commercials for shiny happy lives that people broadcast. Like those unrealistic advertisements on TV, the reality of their situation usually doesn’t match the hype.
Life is messy. Parenting is hard. And parenting a child with special needs is even harder. Keep your expectations realistic, accept your reality and remember that NONE of us ever gets away without experiencing some of the nasty side effects of life.
Until next time,