Dear Parents with Chronic Illnesses,
You are enough.
You probably don’t feel like you are enough or that you’re doing a good job at being a parent, but I’m here to tell you that as long as you aren’t physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive to your kids, you’re doing great. I know that seems like a pretty low bar by today’s parenting standards, but that’s because today’s parenting standards have more to do with impressing other parents than they do with actually taking care of your kid.
Harsh reality: Yes, there are people who are failing at parenting, but they are failing because they are abusive and cruel, not because they didn’t make smiley face sushi for lunch. Refusing to take part in the Best Parent contest isn’t the same as saying, “no matter what you do, you’re a great parent,” because that’s not entirely true. Some people are not meant to be parents. However, there’s a lot of room between an abusive parent and a Pinterest parent. I live in the inbetween, and I’m pretty sure most of you do, too.
My daughter turned 5 this past weekend. We threw her a Moana themed pool party…well, the theme was actually fairly loose. I spent weeks scouring Pinterest for ideas for cute decorations, themed snacks, fun games, and more. I even almost spent $40 on a photo booth Moana prop that would have been used for maybe 4 pictures and then left to rot in a closet for the rest of its pointless life. And that’s when it hit me: I could waste my spoons on decorating or save my spoons to get through Harper’s party and be there for her.
When I look back on my birthday parties as a kid, it’s not the decorations I remember. In fact, there are only two birthday cake decorations that I actually remember and that’s because one had a cool Cinderella toy on the top and the other had Garfield and…well…Garfield’s awesome. Do you know what I do remember from my parties? I remember having fun with my friends. I remember laughing and playing. I remember being excited to blow out the candles and open my presents. I certainly don’t remember if the snacks my parents served fit the theme of my party (did we even have themes for parties in the ’80’s?) or if each one was accompanied by a cute little rustic sign with calligraphy labels.
I’m not knocking parents who throw Pinterest-worthy parties because they truly enjoy doing it. I say, you do what works for you and your family. What I’m saying is that we have put ridiculous standards on what “good” parenting is, particularly for moms. We’ve created such an intense atmosphere of judgement and competition within parenting groups that it’s hard for anyone to keep up, especially those of us with chronic illnesses. If your child isn’t participating in at least 3 after school activities, learning Mandarin, doing community service, wearing clothes that cost more than my whole wardrobe, and eating fresh organic whole food lunches out of bento boxes, then you have failed as a parent.
In a recent session with my therapist, she told me that out of all of her clients that talk about their childhood (I suspect all of them), it’s not the things their parents bought or activities they sent them to that they remember. It’s whether their parents were there for them emotionally. They remember whether or not their parents took the time to listen to their stories more than if they got 1,000 likes on an Instagram post.
I’m not a fan of competitive parenting for any parent, but I feel that parents with chronic illnesses especially need to understand that you are good parents. I have talked to enough spoonie parents to know that we feel a special kind of guilt. Especially, when posts go viral showing a “lazy” mom sitting on the bench while her child plays without her or chastising parents who let their kids eat fast food now and then. There are a lot of things that I do that would look “lazy” to someone on the outside looking in, and I don’t want to end up as someone’s “bad parenting” viral post just because someone doesn’t understand that I could pass out if I got up to play with my daughter. Seriously, the judgement needs to stop (as well as viral pics of people without their consent, but that’s a different subject).
For me, personally, not only am I not living up to the standards of Pinterest, I’m not living up to the new popular “bad mom” standards. I can’t go play outside in the summer with my daughter, I can’t take her to loud indoor play places, I can’t do a lot of things that I would like to do with her. But, I can listen when she tells me excitedly about her day. I can hug and kiss her when she’s scared or hurt. I can snuggle with her and watch movies or TV. I hope these are the things she will remember about me rather than all of the things that I couldn’t do.
I’m going to try to stop comparing myself to the parents I see on social media, or even in my own life. I want to stop wasting spoons on things that only other parents will appreciate and, instead, use my spoons to just be present with my daughter. I’m not vowing to be the best mom or to be a “bad” mom. I’m vowing to just be a mom, whatever that looks like for me and my family and no matter what anyone else may think. I hope you will join me in my vow.
Let’s stop comparing and competing, and start simply living.
A fellow Spoonie Warrior
For more on parenting with chronic illnesses, check out my post 7 Lessons I Hope my Child Learns From my Illnesses.
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