Here is the scene:
Your small group of moms and stay-at-home dads are huddled around a Tupperware of hummus and zip lock of carrots at the park chatting about their preschoolers' latest antics. The conversation is chock-full endearing poop stories and creative uses of the family pet. Next those with older kids begin regaling the group with the news of how their kids just barely made the select soccer team and how upset they will be if the coach does not have them start.
As they talk, your mind wanders partly to escape the pain..."Will they notice if I stick a baby carrot in each ear to avoid having to listen to one more heartwarming story of life in 'typical' land?" But mostly you feel alone, defeated and jealous.
You envy these people their typical experiences and for so scandalously taking them for granted.
Their conversations are, at the same time, inane and sublime. What a luxury it would be if your greatest concern was whether your kid might slip from the #1 to the #2 spot on the tennis team instead of worrying about where you will find a new occupational therapist who accepts insurance, or a plausible pastime for your child so she looks occupied when the other girls are not including her at recess, or calculating out how long you will be able to comfortably stay at the party before your child melts down from sensory overload.
In sum, this is what I learned over time as my reality of parenting a kid with a special need collided with the reality of those parenting "neurotypicals":
First of all, no one truly know what any other person is going through. Who was I to judge their lives as "easy" or their concerns as "trivial"? In the end, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was the green-eyed monster jealously wanting what it appeared the other parents had: Kids who learned things effortlessly at school, inclusion at parties and social activities without sideways glances, and the defacto assumption that their child would be picked for teams (and maybe even captain those teams).
Does my stomach still clench with the occasional envy pang? Sure, I am human. But for the most part I have shed those toxic feelings.
I have learned to:
1) Find joy in others' joy
I found it helpful to separate my thoughts and feelings about my own child from the immediate situation. By doing this, I could be present as friends shared their child's latest conquests. I could truly appreciate and rejoice in whatever cute, interesting, or impressive thing their child had done.
2) Identify commonalities
Although it maybe seem like school, sports, friends, and even self-care come easier to your friends' children, kids are kids. Look for commonalities. You want others to see your child with a special need as more similar than different from their child. This creates connections, helps them relate to what may seem foreign to them at first (e.g., therapy appointments, IEP meetings, adaptive equipment).
E.g., "I know what you mean about feeling like a drill sergeant when you are trying to get your kid to practice for the soccer team. I really had to stay on Alexandra to keep her practicing to get to the point where she could lift herself out of the pool."
Before you know it, these same friends will be asking about and cheering on your child's successes!
3) Educate when you can
In choice moments, I am real with these friends. "You are talking about Sam's date for homecoming and I just want Michael to have a friend, one friend." I say it in a way that doesn't make them feel bad but helps them understand what where I am coming from.
4) Practice gratitude
I remind myself of the great things about my own kid and how I wouldn't trade him for the world.
It is reader's choice. Please leave a comment or a question and I will try to tackle it in my next Capable Conversation.