As our family life changes and becomes more challenging, I am finding it more and more difficult to write about life. Yet, I’m sure the things we have encountered as a family are not unique. So I am going to push myself to write about them, knowing that as ‘different’ as our family is; we are not alone.
As parents we often start with these expectations of how things are going to be, how our children are going to be and how we are going to be with our children. We enter into parenthood with ideals, pictures and examples of what we want our lives to look like. We buy or do things because they are supposed to help, we avoid things because they may harm, and most of all we stack ourselves up against how other families are doing. Unfortunately, it’s these ideals and expectations that can cause rude awakenings for families who are less-than-perfect.
I’m not exactly sure when my rude awakening to our not-so-perfect family occurred, but I do know it was followed by depression. I never wanted the same struggles for my children as I had, and I certainly didn’t want more challenging ones! When you first discover that the mental pictures you have painted of your family are not quite accurate- disillusionment can ensue. Rude awakenings can occur, crushing parental expectations for many reasons: whether your child has to wear glasses, has anaphylaxis, asthma, juvenile diabetes, acid reflux, still wets the bed, has wicked temper tantrums, a learning disability, adhd, autism and any other type of disability, or even something that makes them just a little more ‘challenging.’
Upon realizing that one’s family is less-than-perfect you begin the process of becoming comfortably uncomfortable. For me, this process started off slowly, beginning with acknowledging that my first born did not like to sleep and that I, in turn, was not rested and losing my footing. Eventually we added more less-than-perfect’s to our lives some of them drastically impacting the way we socialized with others. When you’re forced to ask people who are around your son to not bring snacks or serve food that might have peanuts in it, or asking people to wash their hands before they play with your son’s toys, it often becomes easier to withdrawal than risk being treated as an inconvenience. For me, this fear was further magnified with the emergence of behaviour that didn’t always fit the mould or environment our son was in. We became that family that others stared at in the grocery store because their child was having a meltdown.
The second part of my journey to becoming ‘comfortably uncomfortable’; was accepting that it’s okay to be different. I was a quirky child, my husband was quirky child, we are quirky adults and our children are…that’s right; quirky. It’s not that everything about being quirky is difficult, but the difficult things need to be acknowledged and honoured. For myself, being able to acknowledge the things that were not going well, was made easier by looking at the difficult and amazing parts to being ‘different’ at the same time. For instance, I would say: It is painful when my son has melt downs over pocket lint, but it’s hilarious that he loves to dress as the Undercover Boss. Framing struggles with a bit more context often helps to make things a little less depressing. I love both my sons, and they do not have to be perfect or like everyone else for me to accept and love them.
The third part of this process that I really needed to go through, was to accept help when things were beyond me. It does not make you a bad parent to admit you don’t know how to deal with something. Once you are able to acknowledge the ‘differences’ in your family; it becomes easier to embrace support when the difficult parts of these differences interfere with your family functioning. Whether the help comes through family, friends, counselling, occupational therapy, specialists, medication, etc., there is no shame in admitting the challenges may be a bit bigger than you thought. It’s scary to get help, because sometimes getting help means being judged or giving a label to a struggle; As much as this potentially opens the door to a lifetime of preconceived notions and criticism from others, it is important to push through until you have the support needed to improve things. One of the things I want for my children as they grow up, is to become the most well-adjusted adults they can be, but to do this we may need help along the way.
The part of the journey to becoming a comfortably uncomfortable parent that I am currently at is where I am learning to embrace people who cherish my children for who they are. We are so lucky to have people in our lives that understand what being different is like and get a kick out of it. Usually these people can take the difficult parts to being different in stride. They don’t talk about how awful your child(ren) are behind your back, or about how you as a parent have failed or are doing things wrong. These people are the ones who find joy in playing a role in your child’s life, and who don’t treat your child as a half human due to their differences. I feel so fortunate to have these people in our lives; they make it easier for us to embrace both the good and bad parts to being different.
In this journey, my children have been my main teachers as I learn to be comfortably uncomfortable. They have shown me that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Sometimes all it takes is the simple pleasures and small victories to bring us joy. I accept and expect that there will be many bad days to come, which I suppose makes it easier to be grateful for the good ones. I embrace that our family and my children are not what I imagined them to be- and I am okay with that. I acknowledge that for me, parenthood will be an ongoing challenge, but for now I will remain a comfortably uncomfortable parent in my less-than-perfect family.
P.S. If you feel alone because of what makes you different, remember; different is the new normal.