A Letter to the Parent Who Didn’t Expect Parenting to be This Hard
(from a parent who has been there)
I know life looks different than what you expected. I remember all the times I’ve felt that way, too.
When you pictured yourself as a parent, you likely imagined the tough moments every parent experiences — sleepless nights with a newborn, meltdowns with a toddler, moodiness with a middle schooler, and teenagers who are pulling away in search of greater autonomy.
But I’m guessing that didn’t bring you a great deal of concern or worry, because you understood that those experiences, throughout each developmental stage, are inherent in what it means to be a parent. You were confident that you’d have the skills and wherewithal to parent successfully through those “typical,” more challenging moments. It wasn’t even a question.
I remember feeling this way, too.
Not only did you feel confident that the challenging aspects of parenting — as you understood them — would be the sorts of things you could handle, you also expected that those times would be balanced by the loving and tender moments every parent cherishes. Moments like having your child reflect your love and care back to you, feeling your relationship grow stronger with them over time, and experiencing a peace in your connection…you knew this was what parenting was all about, too. Possibly, this is what your childhood looked like, or — if it wasn’t the experience in your own home — you’d witnessed it with extended family members or friends. I know I understood, albeit at a subconscious level, that this was the norm.
It felt safe for me to expect this.
With all you had anticipated in your parenting journey, it’s understandable if parenthood, as you experience it now, is sometimes difficult to reconcile with those expectations. Of course, it stirs up emotions that are difficult to acknowledge and work through, emotions that your previous self might’ve never imagined would be associated with parenting your precious child. Of course, you never could have imagined just how challenging it would become, at times, to parent your unique child. No one can imagine that until they’re actually in it themselves. I know it can feel isolating. I’ve been there, too.
What I want you to know, and I want you to carry with you today — and the next day — is this:
I see you, and you are far from alone in your experience.
I see you as you spend countless hours seeking out specialists who might provide the answers your family is looking for, the sort of person who can finally help you understand why your tender-hearted child struggles so much.
I see you as you spend the little free time you have reading books on every possible diagnosis or parenting method, all in the hopes of improving your life. Your child’s life. Your family’s life.
I see you, because I've seen those things in my own life. And as you parent a child with a fragile nervous system, one who is prone to meltdowns, anxiety, and aggressive outbursts, I want you to know that it’s understandable that you would be exhausted, sometimes feeling a sense of hopeless, and at other times finding yourself deep in grief about what parenting has become. As you work to connect with a child who has difficulty showing concern or empathy, one that can be inflexible and self-focused, I want you to know I see your relentless determination to have a relationship with them, despite this. All of this makes you human.
Everything you have been through reflects your resilience.
Whatever your parenting experience has been — up until this very moment — with all the unexpected (and unwelcome) twists and turns, I want you to know you are capable of parenting your child in the way they need, even when it looks different than what you expected.
I want you to know that there is more hope for you and your sweet child than most people lead us to believe. The transformation I discuss and support with parents each day — please know it is possible for you and your child. But it does not come overnight. This is why I don’t want you to ever feel you have to go it alone. It is so much less arduous with support.
I want you to know that all of your emotions — even the ones that you’d hesitate to speak aloud, the ones that make you feel guilt or shame — are warranted, and it does not make you a bad parent for feeling these things. All parts of you are welcome, and you deserve compassion (and self-compassion) each and every day.
I want you to know this truly is as hard as you experience it to be at times, and you are resilient and capable. You’ve already proven that time and time again. There are thousands of parents out there who share your experience, have been where you are at this very moment, and can help you find your way forward.
With Love and Compassion,
Another Parent Who Has Been There
If you'd like to learn more, you might be interested in my FREE Brain First Parenting Podcast Mini-series. The podcast consists of six concise-but-packed episodes, providing an overview of the Brain First Parenting model and framework. Listen to it whenever you want, on the platform of your choice!
Interested in learning more about how your child’s unique brain works differently and what this means in terms of helping them experience fewer challenging behaviors? You can visit eileendevine.com to learn about the Brain First Parenting program and The Resilience Room membership community.
Eileen Devine works in Portland, OR as a therapist and coach supporting parents of children with special needs. She is also a consultant for families impacted by FASD, PANS/PANDAS and other neurobehavioral conditions through her private practice, working with families nationally and internationally. She lives with her husband and two amazing kids, one of whom happens to live with FASD. For more information, visit eileendevine.com.