“The Family You Choose”
When certain acquaintances trashed my parenting on Facebook, I turned to the friends who love my children, my husband, and me without judgment — in real life.
Last week someone I love dearly posted on social media that she did not agree with the choices I was making as I mother my son with invisible disabilities.
I am still not over it.
Parenting is the hardest job I have. Yes, being a wife can be trying at times, but my husband is an adult so we can talk it out. Trying to rationally discuss a recurring problem with my children sometimes feels like I am negotiating with pint-sized terrorists.
We have a two-year-old girl who has no fear. To say she is curious would win you the Understatement of the Year award. Our son is very funny, creative, and tender-hearted; he also has several behavioral and sensory diagnoses that make it almost impossible for him to regulate his emotions and control his impulses.
Parenting this wild crew could bring even the most perfect “Pinterest Mom” to her knees. I love my kids. I love every freckle and every snuggle as much as I love the big, wet tears and tantrums that rattle the walls. But, in the end, I am just a human being doing the best that I can. I am aware that I won’t get everything right.
Over a year ago, our family chose to live tiny. Shedding our big house, 15 acres of upkeep, and a burdening mortgage gave us the financial freedom for me to quit my job and “road-school” our kids. That means we could tailor our son’s curriculum to his strengths and give him appropriate time to improve his weaknesses.
We knew we’d face some criticism for our decision to go tiny. We knew others would judge us for opting out of public school. I had taught in that very school system for four years, so it wasn’t an easy decision.
We also knew we’d be mocked for some of our parenting choices because raising a child with special needs doesn’t come with an instruction manual and every single day brings its own new challenges—completely different, sometimes, than those we faced the day before.
What I didn’t prepare myself for was blind disapproval from close loved ones and family members who told us they supported our choice, then turned around and shared their “concerns” with everyone else. That really stung.
On a recent cross-country trip, our family stayed with a few old friends in different states along our route. The work-cation allowed us to catch up with old friends, strengthen new relationships, and enjoy the beauty of places we’d never seen before. The trip — and these families — reminded us of the good that is out there for our kids and for those of us trying to negotiate this crazy parenting gig.
While I was still reeling from the unexpected behind-my-back criticism, these friends loved our children and opened their homes to us. They knew of our son’s special needs, but they hadn’t met him, so they didn’t know what to expect. Yet, they prepared meals they knew he liked. Their children laughed and ran and squealed, caught frogs, and played hide and seek with him. They didn’t see our boy as anything different from their own.
If you are parenting a child with invisible disabilities, you know the paralyzing fear and condemnation that you can face with each decision you make for your child. School officials, family members, friends, and even spouses turn on each other. It can be very scary and isolating.
So when you face these hurts, breathe mama.
Learn to forgive them because their judgment is usually a mask for their own trauma or parental regret. It might be that they honestly don’t understand.
And, even if they do, turn to the true friends who love your children well. Allow them to serve you through these painful times. It might feel foreign to receive help instead of giving it, but their love and acceptance of you and your child can be the healing that your heart is searching for.
Keep fighting for your child. Continue to be his greatest supporter, encourager, and advocate. Be bold in getting his or her needs met. I know it can be difficult and sometimes feel impossible, but reach out to those friends who feel more like family—the ones who invest in you, who check up on you, and who love you and your child without condition. They are the family you choose to surround yourself with because they choose to love you without judgment.