I am self-exiled to a figurative isolation booth right now. There are many reasons why, and I will not delve into all of them.
But there’s one I wish to identify because it’s exasperated me for so long. Here goes:
I can think of few things more irritating than listening to parents who cannot shut up about their gifted kids. You know who I’m talking about…the folks who are convinced you’re interested to know that their little angel was only three years old when she started reading or those who complain that the school district doesn’t provide their son with challenging enough homework. “What’s a child prodigy to do?” they moan.
I suppose if you can somehow empathize with them (i.e. your child is also a genius), these kinds of announcements serve as your opportunity to bond with your pals, and to kiss their asses as you tell them what amazing parents they are!
But if you’re the mom or dad of a special needs child, you’re likely not to be so empathetic. In fact these innocent interactions can bring on a full panic episode! While listening, you’re thinking about the likelihood that your little one is not going to be able to keep up with the rest of his or her Kindergarten classmates. And that of course leads you to fear that your child is never going to learn to read, will eventually fail out of high school, and thus have to live with you in your house for the rest of your life while you continue to make his bed, do his laundry and prepare customized meals that he will undoubtedly refuse to eat.
So, you learn it’s best to drift away from the braggarts and instead fall in with the parents whom you believe will get where you’re coming from.
But then something strange happens.
These relatable people start to depress the fuck out of you. And the stress continues.
While it’s somewhat comforting to know that others share your concerns and can relate to your experiences, I’ve noticed there’s a similar one-upmanship happening within this crowd. Maybe it’s just that they need to vent, or that they want to make a connection. Or it’s possible that they’re simply seeking sympathy. Whatever the reasons for their “boasting”, it upsets me to hear how Mrs. X’s daughter refuses to get dressed unless she can wear the same (unwashed) shirt every day or how Mrs. Y’s son can’t control his aggressive nature and so hits innocent kids on the playground.
Perhaps I’m just not ready to face what could be even worse episodes down the road for my OCD/ADHD boy. I’m afraid that what I’m doing now to help him is not enough, and that I won’t be able to handle what awaits us in the future. I turn to these friends for support and comfort, but I end up feeling even more hopeless and depressed. The conversations bring my insecurities to the forefront, and then just leave me hanging.
I think every parent is insecure to a certain extent. Correction: I know every parent feels at least a little bit unsure. For many people, talking about these uncertainties is cathartic. I get that. But right now what I’m looking for are tools.
Currently, I’m reading books and consulting websites for practical advice. Some of the online support groups are also rather helpful when the participants outline the strategies they used to overcome their daily struggles with their children.
For me, I’ve found the best resource in the “ocdandparenting” Yahoo group. While it’s somewhat excruciating to hear others’ stories (but only because of my own fears), the members make a point to tell the readers what has worked for them. What’s also nice is that they go out of their way to say that it does – and will – get better.
So, right now I’m setting up camp in a tiny corner of the Internet, and until I can start to feel more equipped to help my own child, I’ll likely be of little use to my real life friends, especially those whose children have problems of their own.
Forgive me: I’m not ignoring you, and it’s not that I don’t care. I just want to be able to give as much as I take where my friendships are concerned. I don’t want to be the one who’s doing all the unloading, and I can’t bear to be the catch-all for your complaints right now.
I suppose what they say about love also rings true with friendship; you can’t really love another until you are able to love and appreciate yourself. I don’t want to hurt my friends by being emotionally and mentally unavailable, so until I can strengthen my skill-set and start to feel like a more proactive parent, I can’t be the friend you deserve.
I hope this doesn’t discourage anyone from turning to their friends for comfort and support. Ultimately, a listserv of anonymous users cannot be as fulfilling as real relationships with flesh-and-blood friends. Just be more aware of what those real friends may be going through before you begin to engage.
And please know that nobody but you and your spouse care that your kid is brilliant.
If you’ve learned nothing else from my post, remember that.