How do I deal with Typical parents?
Let me pause right here at the beginning to say that I personally don’t find any offense in terms like “normal” or “regular” or “typical” or really anything. Like most words, they can be used in a way that is offensive – and they can be used non offensively, as well. I tend to use these words in this context to capture that feeling many of us have of being distinctly “not normal/regular/typical” – as in, “outside the norms” or “outside the average.” Our lives are not within the norms, our lives are not average. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s just a thing. If the word “normal” or “regular” offends you, you might choose to skip this post.
I see this feeling being expressed in special needs groups all the time.
“How do I handle my feelings when I read about my friends’ kids, who are all typical?”
“When I read my Facebook feed, I just feel icky about my own life – my kids will never do the things everyone else’s kids do.”
“We’re in the hospital dealing with x, what do I do about listening to my friend/sister/mom complain about a teething baby/a cold/a scraped knee?”
“I’ve been functioning on 5 hours of sleep or less nightly for a decade – I can’t handle my regular parent friends acting like they know what that’s like because their 6 year old had one rough night, but I don’t know what to do with that.”
It’s all variations on the theme of “How do I deal with all the regular parents?”
This Feeling is OK
You need to know that this feeling is ok. It’s perfectly acceptable to feel like this. I don’t know what percent of special needs parents feel this way at least once in their life, but I’m betting it’s a high percent, based on how often it comes up.
What is a Typical Parent?
A friend (herself a “typical parent” asked me once, “but what is a typical parent?” Speaking in generalities, in this context, “typical parent” is meant to encompass parents who have only typically developing children. Parents who have no special needs children, no medically complex children, no children with mental illness. I was a typical parent until my youngest was born. It’s not a bad thing.
What is the real problem?
Back to these vague icky feelings when bumping into typical parent concerns.
I think most of us understand that the real problem here is us, right? Obviously, on an academic level at least, we understand that the people experiencing normal parent things are distressed about those things, and those feelings of distress are perfectly normal. Teething does suck. Hitting is hard to deal with, and embarrassing on top of it, even if developmentally appropriate. Sick kids, even if sick with minor things, are hard. Losing sleep, even if just one night, is still hard.
Moving away from parenting, it’s like if a tornado destroyed your house and then you also see that a friend’s car broke down. You’ve lost EVERYTHING and your friend is whining about her car. But you can, at least academically, also understand that having to deal with a broken car is ALSO frustrating and expensive, even if it isn’t as devastating as losing everything you own.
Just because you’re experiencing something HARDER doesn’t make other people’s things NOT HARD.
But I don’t really need to say that, I don’t think. I think most people completely understand this. That’s what makes the icky feelings. We know that the other people aren’t doing anything wrong, and yet we feel…. We feel a lot of things.
What we’re feeling
What are we feeling? Jealousy. Loneliness. Left out. Alone. Like an outlier, a freak. Like the only one who has to deal with stuff beyond the typical.
And, in typical (see what I did there) human fashion, the thing we most often FEEL is anger. Humans are so good at anger. Anger is easy to feel, and it hides other emotions so we don’t have to acknowledge or deal with them. Anger – usually hiding something else.
So, if I’ve described you here in his post – finding it hard to cope with all the “normal” people in your life and their seemingly stupid, piddly problems, when you’re over here dealing with some really big stuff – take a bit and examine what it is you’re really feeling.
This might be a difficult exercise.
I think, for many, it’s jealousy and aloneness.
As Kermit said, it’s not easy being green. It’s not easy feeling like the ONLY ONE. And oh, how we want normalcy. Not “our” normal. Not “the new” normal. Just straight up normal. Or not even normal. Just not crisis.
When I was exclusively pumping for Tbear (who is tube fed), a post by someone trying to deal with their baby wanting to nurse all the time just shoved me right off of some invisible ledge. That was jealousy. SO MUCH Jealousy. I would have sacrificed my left breast to the gods of food if my child would just eat with his mouth. I would NEVER complain about nursing too much – how DARE she complain about something like that, when I would GLADLY sit in my chair ALL DAY and nurse my sweet baby if that’s what he wanted? That, friends, is jealousy. Yep. I could own that. It was jealousy and it left me feeling really really icky, because this poor mama did nothing wrong and I hated her for a moment.
So what do we do?
I have a few suggestions of things that I’ve done that seem to have helped.
First, obviously, recognize – out loud – that the problem is you. The problem is you and that is OK. You’re dealing with a lot. But you need a solid understanding that the problem is not other people. Again, I think most of us already have this. Obviously, other people experiencing every day things and talking about them – even complaining about them – is absolutely fine. Do people in general complain too much? Sure, but that’s almost beside the point.
Second, practice kindness to yourself. Accept this part of you. You’re jealous and you feel alone. Or whatever feelings you identified earlier. These feelings are ok. You’re ok. You’re fine. You’re not a bad person.
Third, let go of the idea that your feelings are wrong because others have it worse than you. Embrace, instead, the similar but slightly different idea of practicing gratitude in your daily life. Your feelings are ok, they are not WRONG. But neither are they necessarily productive. Consider, every time you have these icky feelings, thinking about the things you have to be thankful for. Read, if you like, this post about how special needs parents are more grateful than typical parents. I think it’s so true. We have SO MUCH more to be thankful for. How many typical parents experience the level of joy that I did when Tbear zipped up a jacket by himself for the first time? How many typical parents celebrate things like a few ounces in weight gain, or a regular poop? They’re missing out.
Fourth, fill your life with nontypical parents and children. I really think this is what made the difference for me. I left all my regular parent groups, so I’m not inundated on social media with regular kid problems any more. I joined a ton of special needs groups. (Having a kid with a billion diagnoses makes that easy, lol.) I made friends with other special needs parents. The parent part of my social media feeds now are about 60% special needs kids and parents and 40% typical kids and parents. The special needs part is now the norm in my world. It feels normal. I feel like less of an outlier. I don’t feel like The Only One any more.
And that feeling? That no-longer-alone-in-this. That I-belong-somewhere. That is what makes it so much easier to not get bothered by the “my poor baby (4 year old) has a cold and is just miserable and we’re all so worried, even though she’s typically very healthy, we have no reason to think her body won’t fight this off in a few days, and needing to utilize a hospital or even a doctor has literally not even crossed our minds” type of posts.
I feel like I need to repeat for all of my typical parent friends. The problem is NEVER you. I NEVER want you to feel like you have to censor yourself around me. Your experiences are your experiences. It’s OK to say that your child’s cold is really bothersome. It’s ok to complain about teething. Just because someone else in the world is experiencing worse things doesn’t make your thing not a thing. I have friends whose child has died – and they would give anything to have my problems with Tbear because it would mean their child is still here, with them. I know this and yet that doesn’t make the things Tbear has to deal with any less difficult. You can complain about something while at the same time being grateful you don’t have something worse. Humans are complex creatures – we can multi-task.