I will know that I have been a successful parent when I have raised my children to afford their own therapist.
That’s a tongue in cheek quote from me. I may have even heard it from a comedian in the past. Or indeed a colleague! Yet guiding a child to adulthood can feel like the most responsible job in the world with a list of ‘must do’s’ for success that are more about external achievement than internal development. With that can come pressure, stress, anxiety and a lack of confidence. There are also those who parent solo, parent children with special needs, try to work and parent. Early years, middle school, teenage chaos and then eventually coping with them flying out of the nest. For parents of children with special needs, or medical issues, it can be all-consuming and overwhelming. It can feel more like terrified mom than tiger mom! Whilst there are many books written on the subject of parenting, they are often focused on how we parent the child, and little about how we sustain ourselves as parents. There are no cookie cutter kids, and no such thing as a perfect parent. But there is this ridiculous notion that somehow there should be both, and in buying into that belief we are in fact setting ourselves up for pressure and stress. Before we know it, we risk projecting our concerns onto our children, exacerbating the problem, and, or, losing our own confidence.
My parenting programme is called Et moi?, or, And me?. Because you must look after yourself too. In fact, I dare to suggest that you must look after yourself first so that you can look after your children effectively. As the airline staff say, ‘parents put your own life vest on first before you help your children’.
I have a specialised experience supporting the parents of children with special needs. This parenting can be all consuming. My Et moi? programme was inspired by the wonderfully written Emily Kingsley tale, Welcome to Holland.
Parenting is about sacrifice. But you do not have to sacrifice yourself to be a parent.
Welcome to Holland
Emily Perl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this…
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away...because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.
But...if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things... about Holland.
c. 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved.