Sunday, November 30, 2008

Getting Zen

I've been thinking a lot lately, trying to figure out why it makes me feel so bad when similarly-aged babies of friends do things before Finn does. Not that there has been so many things at this early age, but some delays are starting to present themselves in Finn - or at least what I perceive as delays. Subtle things, nothing major. But even knowing that he will fall behind my friends' babies is usually enough to send me into a funk if I dwell on it enough.

So, why?

I think there are many reasons. One of them, of course, is just being faced with the fact that Finn isn't "normal," or "typical." And about that - so what? Well, there's the whole wanting him to fit in thing, wanting him to not be a misfit or an outcast, wanting him to live a full and fulfilling life. And I don't mean to minimize that because those are huge feelings I have about him. But I'm not so sure that it plays very much into my feeling crappy when I compare him to other people's babies.

I think a big part of it boils down to this: there is, among mothers, this unspoken competition. You know, the "Mommy Wars." We as mothers - even those who work outside the home, I think - get so much of our sense of identity from our role of mother. And our kids are a direct reflection of our worth as a mother (okay, I really can only speak for myself, but I would bet that I actually speak for a lot of moms to some degree). As mothers, we don't get a yearly review and evaluation. We may get a few kudos along the way, but raising kids is largely devoid of recognition. So we look to our kids to validate us and the job we're doing. When our kids do well, achieve and accomplish (especially ahead of schedule), are well-behaved and well-liked, we take pride in that, at least in part because it tells us that we're doing a good job as moms. Whether it's appropriate or not to feel that way, it is what it is - I think we all do it. I know that, at least on the surface, when Joey's teacher calls him a genius, or Kevin has 6 friends competing for his time on the weekends, or my girlfriends comment on how well-mannered my kids are, I mentally sit back and smile with satisfaction and think to myself, "Yep, I'm doing a pretty good job." (Deep down, it's a different story, at least for me. I think so much of it is really just a crap-shoot, and at my core, I don't really believe that I am entitled to much credit for my kids' accomplishments.)

And there is major competition going on. Spend an hour at any playground where mothers are gathered with their kids and you'll hear the bragging about how early Johnny potty-trained, how Susie was walking at 9 months, how Timmy got straight As on his report card, how Janie got chosen to dance a solo in the recital. And we should brag, I guess. Why not? But there's an underlying sense of "It means I'm a good mother, maybe a better mother than you, so there." I do it too, I admit it.

So in light of all this, of the fact that we, as moms, have so much of our sense of who we are and how worthwhile we are wrapped up in our kids and their accomplishments and acheivements, where does that leave us mothers of kids who are develpmentally and/or intellectually delayed? You see where I'm going with this? It makes us - okay, ME - feel like I've failed on some level. You mean, if I love him enough, and nurture him enough, and give him every opportunity and advantage I have at my disposal, he still might will certainly experience delays? Well, that just sucks. With Finn, I'm out of the running. I can't compete with my friends of similarly-aged children, because if I keep looking at it like a competition, I'll surely lose.

So now that I've figured all that out, where do I go from here? What I'm working on is changing my mindset. Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, said in a recent interview (with People magazine, of course), "You either get Zen with this [stuff] or you lose your mind." Those words really struck a nerve with me and I want it to be my new mantra.

Finn is going to be delayed. In what areas and to what degree, I have no idea. But I know that I have to stop looking at it all - this whole motherhood thing - as a race to the finish line. So what if Finn walks and talks and potty trains and reads and writes later than my friends' kids? What does it mean, in the big picture? Does it mean that I'm not as good a mother? No. Does it mean that I don't have a good life? Certainly not. Does it mean that my friends have more happiness than I do? Uh uh. It just means that Finn is who Finn is, and that's what I have to focus on - not who Finn is in the context of comparing him to everyone else's kids - and not who I am in the context of comparing myself to every other mother out there, while I'm at it.


Jeanette said...

This was an interesting post. I just had one of these moments today when I saw the neighbor out "walking" around our front. He is 6 weeks younger than Syd and she is in the beginnings of cruising. It gives me a little pang, of what exactly I am not sure... it's a mix of things, none good. But, as these feelings come, I have to move along and not focus on them because I don't do myself or Sydney any good. Sometimes this is easier to do than other times.

Hector and Jennifer Varanini Sanchez said...

I've been wanting to post about this too. I have those pangs of jealousy but I also have these moments of wanting to tell the mom's of "typical" children just how wonderful it is that their babies are doing all the things that our babies work so hard to do. My sister in law has a baby 2 month younger than Joaquin and the baby eats baby food with no problems or tongue thrusts and can do it holding her in one arm and feeding her with the other. She is also crawling on hands and knees all over little Joaquin. I just look at this baby in wonder at how naturally and how easy it comes to her and it breaks my heart to think that it will always be a little bit harder for Joaquin. I think I'll post about this later this week.

datri said...

Having a special needs child is a ticket out of the Mommy Wars. With my first, I was guilty of it, especially since she was so advanced in anything intellectually. I'm thankful for Kayla for getting me out of that mindset.

Amanda said...

I just wanted to say, as a parent whose child does not have delays, I am in awe of all of the work that parents of special needs children do, above and beyond "typical" (hate that word) parenting (because, seriously, is ANY parenting typical?). Truly, I have felt this way for my whole life. So, honestly, you should be even PROUDER of all of Finn's accomplishments, whatever they may be, and whenever they may happen. You are doing a great job - I hate to hear that you think you have "failed" in some way - quite the opposite! I think you are parenting young Mr. Finn beautifully!

Karly said...

Yes, "zen"...this is my goal. For the most part I do give myself credit for achieving it, but that "1%" of the time is still there. It mostly affects me in that I feel like maybe I am not doing "enough" and then when I work with Kailey more, I feel like maybe I am making her life too much about therapy. It's a very fine balance. Seeing the differences reminds me more vividly of that ongoing struggle.

I feel a bit lucky to have Kailey as my oldest though...I don't have a lot of the comparisons and the competition just wasn't present (given the situation). Give yourself time to readjust your mindset. Having a life with purpose doesn't necessarily equate with being a brain surgeon. It's a good reminder for all of us, really.

Tricia said...

what's funny is, having had Georgia first, I think I will be more modest about Rainer's accomplishments, no matter how proud of him I may be. I am more modest of G's accomplishments a lot of the time too when I am talking with other parents of kids with DS as a matter of fact. I think "getting zen with it" is key. What's the point anyway? Everyone is competing for points that don't exist anyway and so therefore can't even get tallied.