I have some real challenges in my parenting reality. The extent of which I did not even fully understand until about a year ago.
But those challenges have been a part of my life every single day for a long time. And in the midst of navigating them over the years, I have felt eyes on me. Sometimes judging eyes. Sometimes gentle eyes. The stress of trying to navigate a challenging parenting reality while feeling judgment and criticism both silent and spoken has left me with wounds that are still healing.
Parenting is challenging in and of itself. But add in any other complicating factor…whether ongoing or for a season…having a child with special needs, having a chronic illness, having a child with a chronic illness, having a child with sleep struggles, being a single parent, having a child with emotional or behavioral challenges…and you’ve got a whole new level of challenge on your plate. Any one of those challenges adds its own layer of stress onto parenting. Mix two or more of those together and the stress level increases exponentially. Because the nuances, struggles, and difficulties of any given challenging reality are intricate and specific to each family, it can often be hard for others outside that family to grasp the complexity, added weight, and stress of parenting in the context of those challenges. Without understanding, judgment can easily occur.
While I certainly have felt the pain of critical voices and judging eyes, I’ve also been incredibly blessed by accepting hearts and affirming voices along the way, too. In fact, there were times when those accepting people were the ones who God interjected in my life at specific moments so that I could hear the words I needed to hear to keep going. Those accepting hearts and affirming voices have made more of an impact in my life than they will ever know.
There were a few things that these people said and did that mattered so much. Their acts of understanding, affirmation, and support impacted me so greatly that I wanted to share them with you, too. These were the things that made a difference in some of my hardest parenting seasons. If you have a friend who is in the midst of a challenging parenting season or a challenging ongoing reality, these three things can make a world of difference to that mom or dad:
Accept that person, that child, that family as they are. In order to truly accept someone as they are or their reality for what it is, a level of understanding is necessary. And to understand you have to be willing to listen. Good listening involves asking questions without interjecting your own solutions; rather, it involves empathy and reflecting back what you hear the other person saying. Good listening leaves the person sharing with a sense of being heard with attempts at being understood. Take time to try to understand your friend’s challenging parenting reality. Take time to really listen to what her reality is like. Listen to what is hard, what is exhausting, what is sad. In her challenging reality, there has probably been so much adjustment and loss. As you listen, offer acceptance…of her, her child, her family as it is.
Affirmation is so incredibly strengthening to someone in a challenging parenting reality. Take a moment to think about your friend, asking yourself this question: What do you see her doing well? Be specific as you think through that question. She most likely already knows her challenges . . . she lives it every single solitary day . . . and may even feel waves of personal failure in parenting depending on how extensive the challenges are. Make a point to tell her specifically what you see her doing well, whether over the phone, in a text, in person, or in a handwritten note. Your words that point out what she is doing well . . . the things that are working in the midst of the challenges…can make all the difference in the world! It can give her something to hold onto when so many things seem to be falling apart.
If you have the margin in your own life, ask your friend how you could help. Not in a condescending “man you’re really bad at this parenting thing” way, but in an “I see you and I know it’s really hard right now, what can I do to help” way. Most likely, she’d love a break from the challenges (whatever they are), which might mean babysitting or might mean you intentionally engaging her child or might mean you running to the store for her or might mean you bringing dinner over or might mean you going to coffee with her for some grown-up processing time. Ask how you can help and then do what you can from what she shares.
There were seasons early on in parenting before I knew the specifics of the challenges we faced in our family that these three things were the very supports I desperately needed to make it through.
To be understood. To be affirmed. To be supported.
You can make all the difference in the life of someone with a challenging parenting reality by doing any one (or all) of these three things!