I don’t know about everyone else, but I would love to picture myself as Mother Teresa – always caring, always giving, never jealous, never envious and never, ever, ever comparing myself or my child with others.
Confession: I am not Mother Teresa. Possibly, Mother Teresa herself wasn’t the idealized version promoted by vernacular cliches, but that is off topic.
I think it is human nature to compare ourselves. I guess to some degree this could be a good thing. It helps us understand the world, our place in the world and gives us inspiration to better ourselves. However, it can be terribly damaging too.
Recently, I was reading a series from the blog, Life with Aspergers entitled: Get Away from Me with Your “Perfect” Kids. In part I, Gavin says, “It’s a sad fact that sometimes special needs parents express a sort of “evil glee” when they hear about other people with “problem children”.
Like Gavin expresses, being a parent of a special needs child is a complex sort of challenge. There is the challenge of figuring out how to help a child who often emotionally, verbally, and sometimes even physically, kicking you away in their own frustration.
On the other hand, there is the constant struggle to advocate on behalf of your child to an outside world. In this arena, I find, I am often confronted with the thinly veiled assumption that the problems my child is facing are more the result of poor child rearing then any physiological source. I feel caught in the middle.
When caught in this struggle, it is tempting to look to other parents for practical and workable solutions. However, this can quickly digress into comparing my family to other families and myself to other mothers. Comparing myself to others is dangerous. My mind tends to disregard the negatives in other families. I forget that I can never know all of another family’s secret struggles. As a result, I tend to see other families as idealized.
Regardless of my intellectual understanding of this phenomenon, I still slide into this trap. There is the mother that smoked through every pregnancy, has very little structure in her home and “rescues” her children from any discomfort on a regular basis. She has high achieving children; one tests out as a genius. They have IEP’s…. for advanced placement. I become depressed.
The flip side of comparing is the feeling I get when I see a family with “typical children” having struggles. The Evil Glee gurgles up inside of me. As visions flash through my head of all the people who ever hinted that the solution to my child’s struggle was more effective parenting, that “I told you so” feeling overwhelms me. The feeling of validation is momentarily elating.
Evil Glee is a dangerously addictive drug.Many families I know have more typical children. Because typical families can usually find success in typical solutions, following the outcome of the observed struggles only seems to validate that typical solutions are the right solutions. Since my child is not typical, this not the case for me. I am right back where I started, only now I am the one telling myself that it is just my poor parenting failing my child. The depression is overwhelming.
Evil Glee is real and not truly evil as much as taboo. It doesn’t mean I am an evil person and it is ultimately damaging to me. Instead, it is important to look towards the big picture in our family’s life to find encouragement. A short trip down memory lane focusing on our accomplishments and successes can snap me out of the evil glee spiral. Because ultimately, all that matters is how far we have come compared to only ourselves.