Recently I read a quick read called, “10 Things That Would Make Special Needs Parent Cringe If You Knew.” I wanted to know what parents of neurotypical children would think I would be upset if they knew, and the tagline pulled me in. It was catchy, but did it reflect me?
As I read through the list, I couldn’t help but feel I needed to share my opinions on the topic of jealousy. I am not jealous of your “typical” family. I am happy for you when your family is doing well, and I am excited for you to build your own future sports star or enjoy a relaxing movie night. I don’t envy what you have because I know that you will have your own sets of challenges. I am not jealous of my friends and family. I am relieved they will never know our life.
But then I spoke with a few friends afterward, asking them if they were jealous, they all agreed they were. I was shocked. How did I miss this? Why aren’t I? But then it hit me. I wasn’t jealous of a family that didn’t have the struggles of a special needs child. I envy those who did and handle it better than me.
I use the word envy because I long to be a better parent, be the equal of those whom I admire. I do not feel anger, frustration, or rivalry against the person who seems to be mastering being a special needs parent better than I. If anything, I want to learn from them. At the same time, I fumble along, trying to accomplish the basics and rarely feeling as though I will ever match the standards of the other parents. They aren’t judging me, I am. They aren’t comparing me, I am.
Imagine when you were younger, what did you want to be? Who did you want to emulate in your life, a singer, actor, politician, possibly a judge, doctor, or military? To me, envy isn’t always a bad thing. It can be a way to hope to attain, to set a bar. Although I have been told I will never be able to achieve a bar, which I am continually moving…
See, years ago, I was jealous of everything. I wanted better clothing, a luxurious car, a full bank account, a larger house, fancy title at work. I wanted to feel I, “made it.” Then I was struck with infertility – well, at least diagnosed as I had always been. Unable to get pregnant on my own, was a massive blow to my self-worth. I vividly remember being told by parents to be, how devastating it was to be pregnant again. They had no idea my husband and I had been trying to have a baby for over a year at that point and had just learned it was me who was the reason we couldn’t. When the moment was right, I excused myself, went to my car, cried, fixed my face, and returned as if nothing had happened. I told myself that was the last time I was jealous of something I couldn’t have, and honestly, it was, or so I thought.
So, I said people who handled it better than me are whom I envy, but what does that even mean? To me, that means children who are making better progress than my son. We share this rare diagnosis with a pretty tight community, and this can be a blessing at times for the support, but a curse at times because my inner demons show their head and say, “their daughter is speaking now, why isn’t your son?” Or, “their son is responding to his name; why can’t you work harder on that?”
My heart would drop as I would watch a video of a child having a conversation, sure it was a struggle, sure it wasn’t perfect for either side, but it was a conversation. I am happy for that person, but oh so envious that I can’t have that at this moment. Why can’t I have just a bit?
I realized my idea of what is attainable isn’t about my son going to college. It isn’t about him playing basketball with me. It isn’t even about him telling me he hates me because I won’t let him watch another thing on the t.v…it’s that he can’t match his new set of peers, and somehow that is all my fault because if they can do it, why can’t we?
So, I want to say to all the typical families out there, not every special needs parent is jealous of you. Not every special needs parent wants what you have. Do you have what looks like a pretty fantastic life from this side of the fence, yes, but I can also value that you will have your own set of challenges I never will with my son. But am I jealous? I guess I am, a hard pill to swallow for sure. I’m just not jealous of who you think I should be.