For the past almost six years, I have been raising an amazing little boy. My son has beautiful brown eyes and gorgeous eyelashes. His cheeks are full, and he has two adorable dimples. Dinosaurs, trucks, cars, paw patrol, and transformers are his toys of choice. My son greets all people with a huge smile and a hug. In addition to those beautiful attributes, my son also has numerous medical conditions that disrupt his happiness. Many days he feels too sick to play. A lot of his life has been spent at home or in hospitals. Due to his illnesses, I have felt tremendous grief and sadness watching him suffer in pain. However, as I close in on his sixth birthday, I’ve come to realize that no mother or parent of a child should live their life filled with grief.
Grief is a powerful emotion that consumes us. When I was in the thick of my grief, I found it impossible to connect with anyone. The sadness and anger I experienced took over all aspects of my life. My inability to control my emotions made friendships impossible. Most importantly, my grief interfered with my ability to be a good mother.
In my son’s early days, I spent a lot of my time cataloging his deficiencies. Doctors and therapists tracked his progress on charts. Instead of using the charts as a tool to see his improvement, I saw them as a mark on my parenting skills. I felt responsible for his delays. Anytime he failed an assessment my grief consumed me.
Caregivers and parents of children grieve for several reasons. My grief was a result of my son being born with numerous illnesses. Initially, I felt responsible for his body not developing correctly. Next, I felt guilty for not doing enough to help him grow. Finally, I blamed myself for not being proactive and advocating enough with doctors.
What made my grief worse was that I had very little support. We lived in a community where there weren’t many kids with disabilities. My son struggled to play with other children. Additionally, I had a tough time related with parents of typical children. My family struggled to understand the magnitude of his diseases. Many of our relatives distanced themselves from his struggles.
The more isolated I became the anger and bitterness began to bubble over into all aspects of my life. I lost interest and focus in my career. My marriage became fractured and incredibly stressed. I pulled away from every person that tried to help.
I put all of my son’s health conditions on my shoulders. Instead of asking for help, I decided to be a martyr and do all of it on my own. For years I managed all of his appointments, therapies, and coordinated with his providers. I was determined to do it all.
Martyrdom isn’t a cute look for any mother. Why I thought I could do all of it myself I will never understand. However, I had to walk that road to realize that I needed help. After a year and half of no in-home help, I found myself completely burned out.
I couldn’t sleep, eat, or think about anything than my son. While I tried to be everything to my son, I lost every part of my identity. Losing my identity caused my grief to consume me to more significant levels.
Initially, I grieved not having a healthy son. The only trait I wanted in a child was good health. When he came to the world full of illness, I grieved that dream very, very hard.
However, when I lost my identity, I started grieving the life I lost. I realized I felt resentful towards my child. When I evaluated my emotions, I forced myself to admit I felt angry. My son could not control his health. However, I was angry his health disrupted our lives.
When I made this realization, I felt terrible and guilty. I had no right to be angry at my son for being sick. The restrictions his health put on our lives were not a burden. I realized that to get over my grief; I had to accept every part of my son.
Sure his health prevented us from going out. We had to go to a lot of appointments. He also had to go through a lot of procedures. I could not change any ANY of those factors. The only thing I could change was my attitude. My attitude had to switch from being angry and resentful to a manner of being grateful for him.
How did I get to this point?
When I realized I was angry at my son’s diseases for obstructing our lives, I realized that I couldn’t live in that place anymore. Being angry is not a good look for any parent. I got tired of feeling mad, unhappy, jealous, and bitter about everything.My child came into the world with a lot of medical issues. I had to stop being angry that I didn’t get a healthy child. That resentment got in the way of my ability to see my child’s strengths. I lost out on so much time being angry that I missed out on enjoying my son. When I let go of my resentment, I was able to love my son unconditionally.
Finally, I learned an extremely important lesson about parenting. No parent has a child that meets all their dreams and goals. Kids are imperfect creatures with their own minds. I realized even healthy children are demanding and stressful. When I saw that all parents struggle with balancing their grief and hope, I realized that my parenting experience wasn’t that different.
Even though my kid has medical conditions, there are plenty of kids dealing with the adversity of their own. Children are living through abuse, neglect, mental health issues, and poverty. Children can have learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and behavioral difficulties that make parenting challenging.
The best thing any parent can do raising any kid is to accept their child for who they are – not who they want them to be. When I let go of my dreams, I was able to embrace my son and see his strengths. I stopped being angry and upset. My life started filling with smiles, excitement, and happiness.
Yes, my son has medical conditions, but those diseases are a tiny fraction of him. He also loves to learn, give hugs, run, jump, and play. My son is kind, loving and full of life.
Did I get the perfect kid? Nope.
However, I did get a child that is more awesome than I ever could have imagined. When I realized my son’s fantastic personality and abilities, I stopped grieving and started living.
I encourage all parents to start living.
Grief is no place to stay stuck.
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