As a typical Western society, we are obsessed with perfection. No matter what the situation may be, we always want to win, to achieve. Our social media is constantly being populated with stories of achievement, of reaching goals, of becoming more and more perfect.
Is this realistic? Is this helpful? I’m here to tell you that you, your child, your family does not have to be perfect, does not have to achieve anything in particular to be happy. Often, as parents of children with special needs, we are flooded with anxiety when we see other children, whether typically developing or developmentally challenged, that accomplish goals in ways we can only dream of for our kids.
I remember when I was growing up, way before the age of social media, when classmates would approach me and tell me how their little brother/sister was starting to walk, to speak. I could not share the same accomplishments of my own little brother who was severely developmentally disabled. Anxiety quickly followed and I resorted to embellishing stories so that my classmates would not find out.
It was a different time then, but the concept is the same. No matter what achievements or accolades you may see out there, your child is fine just as he or she is. You child does not have to be the same as everyone else. Your child does not have to be a star. Realizing that perfection is unattainable for every one of us, not only for our children, releases us from psychological bondage and lets us breathe.
We do not have to be perfect because…
No one is perfect!
“If you want real peace in the world, start with the children,” Mahatma Ghandi, one of my most revered teachers explained, while seeking the cause of peace between Hindus and Muslims. He pressed on even harder, as he instructed a grieving Hindu father to find an orphan child, a Muslim orphan child, and raise him as his own, but raise him as a Muslim. Children are entrusted to us in a variety of ways: Some of us are parents, some of us are guardians, some of us are teachers, school principals. Some of us work in a capacity that places us right in the middle of human suffering, and help children day in and day out. Some of us come in contact with children sporadically, but know the importance of each one of those encounters.
It is our responsibility, of all of us, to ensure that children feel safe and feel loved. Whether we deal with children every day or only at times, we need to make sure that children see us as a source of security and unconditional love. These are basic requirements, tenets of the foundation that will support them as adults. This is how we build a world of peace, not only for them but for the rest of us.
In this space, this blog, it is my responsibility to bring everyone together in a loving way. We can share our feelings, our experiences, but we all must agree that our children, in whatever capacity we deal with them, are the route to peace. No matter how difficult the situation, no matter what background, no matter what we bring to the table, our children are precious.
Let’s build a world where peace is the answer.
We were sitting in circle fashion, talking about things that kids talk about. I can’t remember exactly what, but I was fully entertained by the conversation. I was at my uncle’s house, and my younger cousins, and their cousins, were converged in this small circle with me. All of a sudden, one of my cousins’ cousin said “have you seen that other kids over there? He looks like a loquito [a little crazy].” I was shocked by the comment but managed to say “that little kid that you just called ‘loquito’ is actually my youngest brother.” Immediately after that, I got up and I left. I ran. I told my mom. I cried. We both cried.
This happened far away and a long time ago, but the pain of this encounter, and many like this, I still carry today. My experience talking and counseling tells me that families experience this kind of judgment, mocking, isolation. I can still feel the same pain I felt back then and I feel the pain that other families go through, day in and day out.
I ran away that day and ran many other times before and after that, but I no longer do. In the “fight or flee” moments that ensued years after that incident, I decided to fight. It was not longer okay to flee. It is no surprise that I built my life around this fight.
Today, I counsel families of children with disabilities on how to achieve a harmonious life, not the “less than” life that many people think we have, not better than anyone else’s, not the same, but a different life, one that we have been given the honor to live. I get strength from the many experiences that surround my life, from my family, from my youngest brother, who is now an adult, and from taking a moment to breathe every day.
I am here today, writing this piece, so that I can be part of your life, so that we can share our experiences together. Let me listen to the voice in your head. Let me replace the one that is telling you to flee, or to fight in ways that are not good for you or your family.
Let’s navigate the rough seas together.
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