Even though my life has been dispersed across geography and time, at a rate much greater than I expected, and getting and staying connected has been more of an issue than I'd like it to be, I have found lots of wisdom and companionship in the gifts of other writers. Wether it has been on a blog, podcast, or book, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by a cloud of witnesses on this journey, who through humor, transparency, suffering, and wit, have spurred me on in my life. This blog post I wanted to share and talk about one example.
The Hand's Free Mama site, produced by Rachel Macy Stafford and her team is one such example. While her writings have not been the most frequent of my readings, when I find a great nugget of wisdom, I want to share it and Rachel offers us just that in her post, "The Discovery of a Disappointed Parent and How It Led to Limitless Love." Rachel does a WONDERFUL job of laying out her personal transformation and how it freed her experience of being a parent. It is a journey that most all parents can relate.
First and foremost I just want to extend a big KUDOS to Rachel, for not only being willing to see and own the impact of her own personal fingerprints on her parenting abilities - but even more so to share them with the world so that we can all connect and learn. Rachel's post (which is SOOO WORTH a full read) shares the process of her realization about the power of what and how she communicates with her teen daughter. Rachel intertwines the insight of research and writing offered by Carol Dweck, Jessica Lahey, Jim Taylor to build a lens for us to observe her own self analysis. Rachel goes goes on to say that she had a humbling ah-ha moment to realize that she had been parenting in a manner of outcome love, noting that her focus and time had narrowed in on her daughter's performance and behavior.
As I read Macy's words, a lump formed in my throat. I knew she was speaking my truth too. From the moment my oldest was born, in those early days of short term, low-level NICU stay, my mother bear was born. As a special needs parent, not only are you ushered into the world of parenting, but you are ushered into the society of special needs. As a new mom, on top of the distorted birthing body and rapidly changing identity, you are also demanded to battle in the arena of ensuring your baby stays alive and has the freedom to grow forward. The slur and slush of hormones, hopes and expectations, and your baby's ever-present developmental differences makes for a chaotic fog that a mother must forge through. Our Mother Bear must lead us. Many mom's make it through, but none of us are the same going forward.
The special needs parent society is a forced gathering of parents who live life full time in juxtaposition. Regardless of our child's individualized unique needs, each of us is confronted with the reality the the world's ill fit, ignorance, or exclusion of our child means that our role as a parent morph's into multiple jobs. Where much can be and is written about what an effective or successful parent does or or looks like, the special needs parent must do differently and must do more. Special needs parenting is like a full contact sport, that is combined with tandem skydiving, with the goal of landing through the narrow eye of the needle that society offers you to launch your child. This kind of chaos and pressure molds the special needs parenting experience in a unique manner.
As a special needs parent, society demand that we have such a synchronicity with our child that we can understand and translate her experience to the world so that she has a bridge to move forward across. You can imagine the impact that this has on a special needs parents' self, parenting style, and the parent child relationship. In the book, Smart, but Scattered, by Dawson and Guare, they describe part of the experience as constantly "loaning out your (brain) frontal lobe," as we interact with and guide our children. I've found this so true as so many days my "brain" is exhausted from the "thinking ahead of, behind, and all around my child's experience."
For those who do not have special needs children, and specifically those who do not have twice exceptional children, this concept could seem foreign, at best. But for the child whose body and brain create a Swiss cheese learning and development experience, we have no choice. Our children can talk to us in depth about the game they are playing, the book they are reading, or the latest interest they've found, but yet they don't have access to the brain functions to manage their emotions around the immediate circumstances, or they don't the cognitive capacity to organize their thinking or their body to complete the routinely expected social demands like sitting in a public school for 7 hours a day or eating dinner and getting ready for bed. To the uninformed, this can seem to be a dysfunctional relationship and not a product of biology.
But the reality is that it is both. Reading Macy's post was a reminder. For all of the developmental questionnaires I've had to fill out, to all of the specialists I have had to consult with, to all of the educational conferences I have had to attend, my Mama bear role has required me to spend an inordinate amount of time as an observer and an analyst of my daughter's life and development, all of it points me to my daughter's behavior and performance. As the social demands of formal schooling increased, so have the pressures to assess and conform. This has been hard. For inherently, no one likes to conform, but many do so begrudgingly, with expense. However, individuals and families with special needs most often conform at great cost. And many can't and lose everything. One can imagine the rumba on a hire wire like experience this becomes.
Most any of us special needs parents sacrifice the nature and quality of our relationship with our children in order to play conforming to convention's game. Reading Rachel's post was a reminder and a call to resist. Her writing modeled the capacity to step back from her drive to micro-manage her daughter's performance and behavior so that she could embrace a "Discovery Love" with and for her daughter. To do this, she spoke of letting go of the expectations and the worries that she personally held so that she could embrace the moment with and of her daughter.
The term "Discovery Love" sounded so delicious as I read it. I knew to taste it meant surrender. Surrender to the fear that my atypical developing child may or may not live the life that she wants or needs. Surrender to the fear that I am not enough or too much for the parenting that my daughter needs. Surrender to the reality that my efforts are no crystal ball or guarantee. Not surrender in the sense that I am giving up, but releasing the grip of my hands on what was not real to be open-handed to receive the gift of the moment of what is. This was the "discovery love" that Rachel was referring to.
As Rachel unfolded discovery love further, she offered the quote....."Nothing you will become will disappointment; I have no preconception that I'd like to see you be or do. I have no desire to foresee you only to discover you. You can't disappointment me." --Mary Haskell. How gorgeous!!! What a way to show up to yourself, your children, and the world around you. As I read this, I knew that as a special needs parent, this is the foundation that we need and deserve to live and grow from. Unconditional love is not new to most new parents. But special needs parents are repeatedly threatened to loose touch with this and conditioned to live and operate from operational love. It's a pressure and a threat that is not often talked about or addressed. But I seek a new way - to talk about it and to seek to find a new way for me and for my daughters. I am thankful to Rachel Macy Stafford for her eloquent reminder and me too encouragement that we can all live and parent from a place of discovery love
Melinda is a recovering "normal" seeker, who is often distracted by unexpected moments of nature's beauty or questioning children