In Part 6 of the series, “Every Family Has a Story,” Darla Johnson reminds us that we tend to make mountains out of molehills.
Click here for previous posts in this series.
Are you a people pleaser? Come on, admit it, you probably are. At least to some extent you probably consider what others think of you. There is a rare breed of humans who absolutely do not give one iota of thought to what others think of them, and I’m not sure that’s completely good but I’m not analyzing that today.
From the time we’re young, we’re challenged to consider others and their opinions. And while we should definitely be courteous to others, we shouldn’t go to the other extreme and play the role of the doormat. As young children, we may have even been asked, “What do you think your mother/father/teacher will have to say about that?” The intention behind those words may have been to inflict shame.
Maybe as an adolescent you struggled tremendously with acceptance among peers, as you considered scornful or judgmental looks or comments from them. No matter what stage of adulthood you find yourself in, you may on occasion be haunted by feelings of inadequacy, fear or shame that you never quite conquered.
Here’s a challenge: don’t care so much about what others think.
I’m not saying you should instead begin to be rude, cold or egotistical. What I am suggesting is that many others struggle with the same self-doubt, and what’s more, your issues tower much higher in your perception of them than they do in the eyes of anyone else. You’re probably making a mountain out of a molehill. Why am I even saying all of this and how in the world does it apply to our journey of special needs families?
Get ready, here comes the punch line: you should consider your special needs child’s care more than you care about what others think. That may sound pointed or preachy, but I’m sincere in that belief. Several years ago I decided that others’ opinions of me, my child, my family didn’t matter. They’re opinions. That’s all! They basically have no value other than the value we assign to them. Yes, this is easier said than done. But stick with me for a bit, please.
If we don’t have the biggest or most nicely decorated and furnished home in the neighborhood, does it matter? No. It matters that we provide our children with the basics of a warm, safe home, a place to sleep and food to eat. Is there value in wearing the latest trends with designer labels? Not to us. My daughters and I get a rush out of rummaging through clearance racks and consignment stores for bargain clothes. My kids wear clean, weather-appropriate clothing that fits them; that’s what matters. Do I get all bent out of shape if I’m not driving a sparkly-clean Cadillac Escalade? Heck no! I just need reliable wheels to get me from point A to point B. My measuring stick is not fashioned by the world’s standards. As a side note, I also don’t judge anyone who has these possessions.
The same mindset that helps me not be depressed that I don’t have big-ticket items that I can’t afford helps me to shrug off any insinuation from people that I don’t measure up to their standards. I didn’t develop it overnight; it was a long process of practicing not putting stock in opinions of no value. I’ll flesh it out for you.
My oldest child has a severe vision impairment. She needs to hold items up close to her face in order to see them. If we’re out in public and she’s holding her phone up close to her face to read a message, do I care about what others looking at her are thinking? Nope. If they know us, they understand. If they don’t know us, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Those strangers’ opinions hold no value to me.
Another scenario: if I’m out at night with my daughter in a place that’s not well-lit, I will warn her of upcoming hurdles. I will hold her arm and may say, “There’s a step up/down here,” or “There’s a pothole here,” etc. Do I give a second thought to what bystanders may be thinking? Not a chance. Her safety is way more important to me than their fleeting thoughts.
One last example. Our youngest, our son, has autism. If he’s having a meltdown in the shopping cart at the store because he wanted the red Hot Wheels car, not the green one, do I look around, embarrassed at his behavior? No. No, I don’t. Because trying to figure out why he’s upset and fixing the problem is paramount to him trusting me to do what’s best for him. Again, if the passers-by know us, they give us grace. If they don’t know us, then their opinions honestly do not matter in the least to me.
Am I saying that my kids can do whatever they want and everyone just has to get over it? No; if that’s what you’re thinking then I haven’t made myself clear. Allow me to rephrase my thoughts. I will meet my children’s basic needs regardless of what others may think about the temporary external factors. I am not embarrassed by my children’s behaviors that are due to their health conditions, even if they may seem unusual to a stranger. I am not ashamed of the sacrifices I may make of my ego in order to be who I uniquely am to my unique family. I’ve had to do a lot of self-evaluation since my teen years and my conclusion now is that I care a lot less of others’ opinion of me than I care about my children’s needs. I challenge you to practice it some time; I think you’ll find it rather freeing!