When your child challenges you this year, say YESJan 01, 2023
A love letter from me to you. And to your children...
I have been thinking about my eldest a lot recently.
Truth be told, there are few days I am not thinking deeply about him.
Since his birth, he has wormed his way into the recesses of my soul. Since before his birth even.
I remember the very first moment I knew I was pregnant. I felt some new energy in my body. Something...foreign.
And then, as he grew inside me, he began to change my stomach, my thighs, my breasts. My clothes. The words I used. The way I felt about driving on a highway. He was nowhere yet, and everywhere already.
And then when he was just five months in utero, we learned about his heart condition. That he would need multiple surgeries and that the road ahead was treacherous and uncertain.
What I did not know at that time was that he would also have emotional responses to all of those physical, life-saving interventions. And that on a very real internal-wiring level, his brain would also work so differently from mine.
As I've gotten to know him over the years, I've learned he is a super smart, absolutely hilarious, limit-busting, comfort-seeking AND thrill-seeking kiddo with a sharp wit and a kind heart. What he is not: an easy, paint-by-numbers kid.
He has kept me on my toes since the day he was conceived. He refused to nap despite the seven sleep trainers we hired. He is the kid who took swimming lessons with joy on day one and refused to go near the water by the end of the lessons. He does EVERYTHING in his own way. On his own terms. When HIS nervous system tells him to.
Let me tell you, this has been a serious learning curve for me as a parent. I assumed if I loved him with my whole heart, read all the books, took all the classes, and listened to all the experts, then we would thrive.
I was wrong.
The expert I needed to learn to listen to was my son. He is the best expert in HIM.
I had to learn how to ride his waves, learn his patterns, lose all attachment to what things are supposed to look like, and fully embrace the specificity of HIM. And then I had to do the same for ME. Because I am a part of this story as well. And I need MY needs met too.
Somehow in the midst of all the chaos, I had a second child, 18 months after the first. My second child is an entirely different human being, with all of his own quirks and needs. And of course, I've had to go on a similarly specific "love journey" for him as well.
Parenting any child is hard, hard work. But for some parents, love, food, and shelter really do seem to be enough. These parents spend much of their time deciding what school to go to, what sports to do, what interests to follow. There are challenges to be sure, but regular parenting advice suffices for families like these.
For my family, the story has been more complex. Both because I myself am a deep-feeler, but also because my children have been deep-needers. We have had to build our OWN pathways up our own mountains, and that journey has been exquisitely hard on some days. And exquisitely beautiful as well.
Many of the parents in our Mother Flipping Awesome community have similar stories. Of course, the details will be different in each of our families, but the basic incongruence is the same for all of us. There is one way the world tells us it is "supposed to look" and yet the way it looks in OUR home is so very specific and different. Because we and/or our children have more complex needs.
This incongruence can cause feelings of guilt, shame, gaslighting, and rage. But underneath all of those emotions, what burns brightest are LOVE and HOPE. And if you can find a way to not buy into the false story, you can begin to build your own true narrative of redemption.
Sixteen years into this journey, here is what I most want to share with you:
It is true that my kids have been challenging. For so many reasons. But I am better for the challenge.
💪 The physical health challenges have taught us about our bodies, and given us gratitude for every day.
🧠 The emotional challenges have taught us all self-regulation, and how to make friends with our brains and hearts that run like finicky Alfa Romeos instead of reliable Hondas.
❤️ The sibling challenges have taught us to respect differences, learn empathy, and embrace our own natures.
Every one of these challenges has taught me how to love myself, my husband, my children, and my larger community.
The challenges broke my heart. And then they broke my heart OPEN. And this is the single greatest gift my challenging children have ever given me.
Perhaps there are days you long for "easier" children or less intense circumstances. I hear you. And I also want to comfort you with the knowledge that the challenge is so much more beautiful and important than you may be able to see right now. Your children are challenging you to be the very best YOU you can be. Say YES this year. And then thank them. Because the sunrise on top of the mountain is worth every grueling step it takes to get up there. I promise.