Dear Parents Who Tell Me ‘I Don’t Know How You Do It’


Dear Parents,

I see you watching me and I feel it happening — you’re comparing yourself, your life, your child, to me, to our life and our child.

But why? Since my daughter was born I have become used to, but not fond of, the comments that have become a part of our lives. Comments like, “You’re so strong,” or “I don’t know how you do it,” and “You’ve been through so much.”

I don’t take compliments well to begin with, and don’t like the focus to be on me. Most of the time the comments are coming from parents sitting in the hospitals same as me, night and day. They come from the parents who get up and deal with what it means to be a parent.

I don’t really understand where this mindset comes from. I can’t wrap my head around you not being able to imagine going through the same experience. I don’t understand why you think you are not strong enough, or capable enough, and I wonder why you sell yourself so short?

We are the same, and I never understood why you act like you don’t know what it is to love a child.

You feel sadness when they are hurt, and anger, frustration and unbelievable loss of control when there is nothing you can do for them.

You sit up all night long with your child who is sick.

You try to soothe a broken heart.

It takes every bit of strength you have not to punch the kid in the face who took your child’s ball.

When your child scraps their knee or has a fever, or you have to spend hours in a hospital waiting room, I am pretty sure you feel the same as I do.

The simple fact is this is your child.

I ask myself, “Would you not go to the ends of the Earth and back again to help them? Would you not do these unbelievable things you say I have done? Would you not give your last breath for your child?”

Being a parent is a rewarding, difficult, tiring and wonderful experience no matter the obstacles we are up against. But when you say these things to me, I feel uncomfortable instantly. Even angry at times. Sometimes I feel shame at words because I am unworthy.

I feel these things not because of you, but because I know there are others out there who would give anything to live the worst day I have had with my daughter — because it is a walk in the park compared to what they have been through.

I know mothers who have lost their children, and yet they say these things to me. I think, “What strength it takes not only to be you, but to show me sympathy, love and friendship. What strength it takes to listen to me complain about what I’ve been through and to not blink an eye.”

I wonder to myself, “How can you be so strong?” I am sure you would live my life if it meant never having to say goodbye to your child.

There is a saying, “God only gives us what we can handle.” I don’t know how I feel about this statement, but I know that we are each given a choice and it’s up to us how we handle it. It’s up to us whether we accept it or not.

I, and other parents, may have a little extra on our plates, but please do not make yourself seem less of a parent because of that. Don’t discount the struggles, sacrifices and triumphs you’ve had.

I deal with the same stuff you do — Bedtime turns in to a negotiation process, my kitchen turns into a short order cook station and sometimes it’s candy for dinner just to get some rest. I’ve spent 10 minutes arguing with a 5-year-old until I finally realized that I am the adult and I make the decisions. I dread the teenage years and the first boyfriends and girlfriends, as well as the day they move out and the moment they don’t need me anymore.

Now, I am not saying that it’s easy to be a parent of a child with special needs; there are things that are extremely difficult. Yes, there are horrible things my child has gone through that I had to be a part of. And, yes, some days I envy you.

I wish I didn’t have to worry about medications, doctor appointments, dietary issues… I wish I didn’t have my own language involving EEGs, AFOs, PTs, OTs and so on. I wish people would not stare. I wish they wouldn’t treat us differently.

But I look back on my life since my daughter was born, and I now know exactly how to answer your question. My strength comes from knowing you will catch me if I fall. I can do this because you are supporting the steps I must walk up, and it will never seem like too much because you are carrying some of the pieces for me.

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I can say these things with full confidence because of you, my family, friends (new and old), and complete strangers. Our paths may be different, but our journey is the same. We just want our children to succeed.

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