Yesterday a friend of mine shared her baby’s first steps to Instagram. She was experiencing the same joy that all parents feel, particularly with their firstborn, of witnessing that magical milestone where the physical control of your now-mobile child goes flying out the window. I watched him totter with barely measured abandon in a vague direction, overcome with his own pint-sized elation. It made my mind cast to a different direction. Watching him, I held my own son up against this video in my mind’s eye. My own son, who is now 19-months and still unable to crawl, let alone take his first steps as an independent human. My own son, who may gift me with this right-of-passage tomorrow, or in two years, or perhaps not at all. My own son, who won’t take those magical tentative steps through his own sense of curious independence, but rather through my monotonous, repetitive, exhausting facilitation with the aid of physio and occupational therapies.
My wandering mind darted further – to a podcast I had recently heard where two mothers with disabled children were telling their audience to please not post their children’s awards to social media. These mothers were fed up with their parent friends posting about how proud they were that little Johnny got a participation award at School Assembly, or some other redundant piece of paper about how he took a shit at the right time of day. School Assemblies were a crock of shit anyway, they said. They were a form of Ableism, they said.
These mothers were hurting for their own children and every time they saw another mother splash her child’s achievement across the pages of their socials, it was a sharp reminder to them that they could not do the same. Their children aren’t the award-getters. Their children often can’t participate at all, let alone well enough.
But it went further than that. They talked about how it was indulgent. How it was tacky. How they had been “raised” to understand that boasting about one’s child was simply a form of boasting about oneself. I have been raised the same. Not necessarily by my mother but by societal expectations. Don’t boast. Your child’s achievements are not your own. Don’t have tickets on yourself. Don’t have tickets on your children. Stop living vicariously through them.
And I have to say, I could not disagree more.
When I saw my friend share her joy at her child’s first steps, I didn’t wonder if he was ahead of his peers or on cue or behind. I didn’t think about how unfair it is that she gets to experience this and I don’t. Can I say I didn’t feel wistful for my own son? That it didn’t bring up my own pain for my own life and his? No. I can’t. But that wasn’t the most important thing I felt and it wasn’t an acceptable justification for whether she should have shared it or not. Here’s what mattered most:
When I saw it, the first thing I felt was pride. Pride at his achievement. Pride for her. She has poured her soul into loving her child and she has earned her delight for any part of his life that she has the privilege of witnessing.
The next thing I felt was relief. Relief that his milestone means one less challenge that he will have to face in life. Relief that she doesn’t have to feel the rising sense of angst, turned to dread, turned to grief, for every month that passes where he does not walk. Relief that she is spared at least that pain if not the pain of other trials she will inevitably face as par for the course in parenthood.
The last thing I felt was joy – both potential and real. The potential joy came from the necessary visual reminder that I will (hopefully one day in the not-too-distant future) see my own son take his very own, hard earned and well deserved first steps. How overwhelmingly sweet that moment will feel. The real joy came in seeing that, even if he doesn’t, others can. This is good. I want that joy for me, so I especially want it for you, and when I see that you have it, I am filled with it, too.
It’s not just about the first steps, because they’re big and they’re justifiably worth celebrating. It’s also about the “mundane” award that your child will get at School Assembly. The ones that some grieving mothers say are worthless, and meaningless, and empty. Perhaps you are proud of that little award because it showcases her academic mind or her tenacious ability to stick things out. Perhaps your pride comes from the fact that she’s not sporty and will never get the MVP award just like my son won’t, or she’s not always smiling and laughing and cuddling you like my son is, but where she does thrive is in her magnificent and inspiring brain or her resilient inner resolve and so you are nurturing and celebrating that potential in her with joyous abandon because she deserves that and so do you. She has earned her award. You have earned your pride.
It’s important that your child – and your community – feel your love, your joy and your pride of your children. Even for the most mundane of wins. If I have a problem seeing your child’s mundane wins or your desire to share them with the world, that has everything to do with me and my God, and absolutely nothing to do with you. It is my responsibility to shift my pain. It is not your responsibility to dull it.
Sarah and I have spoken with so many mothers who feel bad for speaking freely about how well their child is doing. We’ve heard from so many more who are sad that they missed out on so many important events in the lives of the people around them while they were facing their own struggles, because those people were too scared to share their joy or their pain in fear it might be too much – or not enough – for their friend.
Feel your joy and share it with me, please. Share whatever amazing, messy, beautiful thing your child does or says or wins. Significant or not. I’ll certainly be screaming my son’s wins from the rooftops so don’t make me do that alone.
Don’t be scared that I may feel pain… I probably will. That pain is mine and it has nothing to do with you. What’s more important is that I will also feel your joy. I need to see your joy. I need to see your pride. I may not always like it, but I need it. I need the reminder to look for the little wins with my own son so that I don’t drown in what he’s not achieving. I need to want the best for you in order to feel the best for me. Your joy is my joy – it is my medicine – and not only do I love that you are proud… I’m super bloody proud for you, too.
Especially that your kid managed to take that well-timed shit.
Learn more about Emmett’s diagnosis of Global Developmental Delay by listening to the Work Wives podcast episode where Anna shares her news and journey of navigating his delay with Sarah. You can listen here.