I think I have been feeling a little overly sensitive lately. It seems that almost anytime I log onto my computer and hop on Facebook for a quick check in with friends I end up feeling picked on. The thing is, I know it isn’t personal. I also know that most people have no idea things they are sharing and posting just might be cutting into me. I am also aware that there are times when I am the one saying something that is hurting another and for that I am sorry.
I have a question for all of my friends who are parents. Do you remember back before you had kids? Do you remember feeling like you had it all figured out, that you knew the kind of parent you were going to be and that you were certainly NOT going to make the mistakes you saw your friends and family making? I sure do. Do you wish you could go back in time and slap your pre-parent self and tell her to shut up. A million times YES!
Now, if you are a special needs parent I have a question for you. Maybe just maybe, would you like to go back in time and slap the person you were before your special needs child came along? I am speculating because I was plunged into the experience of parenting and special needs parenting all in one fell swoop. I didn’t get to ease into parenting with a typical child and then get the challenge of a special needs child I was smacked with it all at once.
My point is there is a gap between non parents and parents… the one where you know everything and you could do it better if you were the parent. Well, I think there is also a gap between parents of typical kids and special needs parents. It is very similar to the other but a little different. Your friends of typical kids think they can understand because after all, they ARE parents, how different can it be? There is this idea that there are universal truths (though what feels universal to you or your group MAY NOT be as universal as you think). My parent friends have a way of suggesting things that they think are helpful, they just don’t understand. “What’s that you say? We should just drive at night for our trip while our kiddo sleeps in the car… gosh, I have never thought of that!”
I would like to share with you a couple of examples that have been enough to send me to the comments section on Facebook to start typing my rant in response to some meme, blog post, or Ecard only to quickly delete before posting. I don’t have particular links for these because frankly, we have all read these posts in multiple places from multiple sources and either nodded our heads, smiling smugly to ourselves about HOW FREAKING RIGHT this is or gritted our teeth thinking, “I WISH I had the luxury of feeling so sure about this.”
I started seeing the posts pretty early in my parenthood experience, probably before I was a parent too but I didn’t click on every link back then because I didn’t care. The blog posts that praise the benefits of letting your child be independent, mocking the helicopter parent as one who is stunting the growth of their child and raising a person who is going to be insecure, afraid, and incapable in the real world. Of course it isn’t enough to just repost, the friend must also write something like, “This is why I let my children play at the playground by themselves! Don’t assume I am not paying attention, I am just letting them grow into wonderful independent human beings!”
I would like to just preface this by saying that Alternate Universe Me, the one with a typical child that sleeps through the night would agree with this. In theory it all sounds great. Who doesn’t want an independent well adjusted child? I know I do.
While these parents are going on about not assuming they aren’t watching because they aren’t hovering is it even occurring to them that I may be hovering because I don’t have a choice? Don’t you think I would rather go to the park and hang out with you on the bench in the shade sipping Starbucks and chatting than going back up those steps and wrecking my hair going down that static electricity inducing slide which, by the way, was not designed for these hips of mine? Don’t you think I would rather stand back and watch Owen make friends than to push him on the swing for 20 minutes only to take him off suggesting we do something else to have him move to the one right next to it because no swing should be left un-swung?
How do you think it feels to watch your strong, independent children, brush past my son, dismissing him because he needs his mommy as they run up those steps? Finally, at almost 4 years old, I think Owen might be able to do those steps without me, but then what happens when he gets to the top and is too afraid to go down the slide? One too many times I have been standing right next to him as a child has shoved past him to go because Owen waited one second too long. I was right there. What would happen if I wasn’t standing there? He could tumble back down those steps or be shoved down the slide by a child who just doesn’t understand he isn’t the same as them. He looks old enough not to be afraid of that slide, he looks big enough to handle it.
So while you don’t want me to assume you aren’t paying attention to your child because you aren’t hovering, please don’t assume I am there out of some desire to be over protective. Don’t assume because he looks just like your 4 year old that he is. Don’t decide that I am holding my child back. And if I am… well, I have my husband to push me out of my comfort zone and to test Owen’s limits.
Another post I see at least weekly (and often posted by the same parents raising those independent kiddos) is the “Why I don’t let my kids use technology” treatise. Once again, this isn’t something I specifically disagree with, in theory. We should all strive to limit our kids consumption of screen time. It is the tone that bothers me, the belief that parents allow devices to “babysit” their children so they don’t have to be bothered.
One too many times I have been sitting in a group of people that I might not know terribly well and somehow the subject comes up… How sad it is that parents will put an iPad in front of their kids at a restaurant or that the parents are at the amusement parks on their phones. It may look like I am spending too much time on my phone but I am really excitedly filming Owen on his first entirely solo ride (the mini Ferris Wheel) and then posting it to Facebook to share with all our friends. I am not ignoring my child, I am so overcome with pride that it simply can’t wait.
Restaurants can be stressful for any family of young kids but for special needs kids it can be even more difficult. If it is loud and crowded that can be enough to set Owen into a crying fit. Often times he wants to cruise around and check everything out, particularly that cool swinging door that the wait staff keeps going into. If there are two of us, we indulge Owen’s desire to explore while we wait for the food to come. At some point though, everyone needs to eat, eventually, the iPad comes out. And somewhere deep down, I know that there is at least one person looking over at my kid “zoned out” staring at a screen and they are inwardly shaking their head at me. If you have never dealt with sensory issues, then you can’t even begin to understand how technology can be a life line in these situations.
Please, please, please, don’t post links in the comments about how screen time before the age of two or five or teenage years can stunt your child’s intelligence. Believe me, I have read these and it just causes me worry. I spent plenty of time shaking my head and pursing my lips at parents who used technology to get through a meal with their kids… even when Owen was a baby. Believe me, I get it.
The part that really bothers me is the misconception that parents would rather put an iPad in front of their kid instead of talking to them. People, I have a non verbal, almost 4 year old. I would give ANYTHING to have a conversation with him while we eat our lunch. Even if it meant we spent the whole meal talking about The Wiggles! I would give up our iPad, iPhones, television, my laptop, just about anything for that.
I talk to Owen all the time. Even though he can’t talk back it is important to participate in “conversations” with him. We “talk” in the car, sometimes me just asking about his day and leaving time for a “response”, sometimes he makes his happy noises and grunts and I grunt back (talking in his language). As we shop I point out things asking what we should have for dinner or which color shirt he likes better. Somehow though, I am guessing as you sit in the restaurant with your family, judging me for letting my kid play on the iPad, you would rather not hear my soliloquy on what I should make for dinner tonight.
Finally, and this is the one that makes me fear I am being too sensitive, are the posts about Pinterest worthy parties and classroom treats. “Can we just stop they ask, can we just not make so much out of these birthday parties and holidays they say”. To that I say, by all means, if throwing parties isn’t your thing, then don’t stress over it. However, don’t assume I go overboard on Owen’s parties because I am somehow competing or trying to show anyone up. I do it because I enjoy it. If someone doesn’t enjoy party planning then call up Chuck E Cheese or just grab some balloons and a cake at the grocery store. I won’t judge. If you choose a cake with whipped cream icing instead of buttercream, I might pout but I won’t judge.
I enjoy being creative and using my hands to make things for those I love. I am trained as an Interior Designer but my days are spent going to therapy sessions and doing joint compressions and making sure Owen wears his weighted vest. Every once in a while I get the chance to spend too much time and too much money planning a party and I have so much fun! Don’t take that away from me. It is how I show my love.
As I was chatting with my friend (and non mom) about these things and how overwhelming it can feel to be under constant judgment she looked at me and said, “Can we just all stop telling each other what to do?” And I thought, she will make a great mom some day. I am so blessed to have such a wise friend.
We all parent the children we are given. Yes, there are bad parents out there who just don’t care but for the most part I pray that everyone is doing the best to love and care for the children they are given. When I spend time with my nephew, a typically developing soon to be 2 year old, I react to the person he is, not the parent I have become as Owen’s mommy. I give Gabe more space to explore and investigate, I back off. I hope if I am blessed enough to have another child I will recognize who that unique child is and parent him or her appropriately. Please allow me to parent the child God entrusted to me and believe that I am equipped to do that, helicopter parenting, iPads, and Pinterest parties included.