When I Think of Life as a Special Needs Parent as a Baseball Game
Imagine if parenting were like a baseball game.
You’ve loved the game all your life. It’s a passion you can’t wait to finally fulfill in the big leagues.
It’s the start of a brand new season. You look out at the field and admire the ballpark before you. You soak up the excitement and exhilaration of this new beginning.
You know this game inside and out. You couldn’t be more prepared. You’ve gone to all the practices, and you’re suited up properly with all the necessary equipment to play. You have all the confidence that the timing is right, and you know exactly what to expect.
But there’s one big caveat: Being a special needs parent is a whole new ballgame.
Absolutely nothing can prepare you for this season before you. Not your training, not your coaches, not your past teammates and not even those who have played in this league before. There is no handbook, there is no “game tape” and you don’t even really have teammates playing on the field with you. You’re on your own.
All of those parenting books you’ve read? The babysitting hours you’ve logged? The education you may have earned to help prepare you? That was all training camp.
Although you won’t realize this quite yet, you’re still euphoric about the game ahead of you.
You look out at your field with stars in your eyes. You imagine your journey — the easy, defined course from first base, to second, to third and back to home again. Each base represents the steps leading to your child’s milestones. Sure, the pace to get around them varies by child (you know this because you’re so prepared, after all), but there is still a path to follow, formed by the players who have conquered the field before you.
You glance over at the dugout where you will bond with your teammates once you’ve made your way through all the major milestones. Your teammates will become all the mom and dad friends you will make along the way. You will bond over the thrill of this exciting, fulfilling game you’re playing together.
You can’t wait to get started. You’ve got this, you think. You are ready to go. Let the games begin, you say.
You step up to home plate with your fans cheering you on. This is everything you have dreamed of your entire life. It’s all part of your plan. You will hit a home run. You will hit a home run. You say it over and over to yourself. Nothing can stop you. It will be just how you’ve planned it.
The pitcher winds up and releases the ball, and it’s a curveball.
This isn’t supposed to happen. This isn’t what you were prepared for. You’ve seen a curveball before. You know they exist, but you never expected to have one thrown at you. This wasn’t part of your plan; this wasn’t how you dreamed it to be.
This game, as you know it, is instantly different. It will be the most inspiring game of your life, I promise you this, but it’s nothing like what you had always envisioned for your family.
Take a deep breath, special needs moms and dads. This is when you must throw every single expectation to the wind.
Embrace your pitch and swing for the fences.
You set out for first base, but it’s a whole new field. You will run like you’ve never run before, but you will have no idea where you’re going. Where is your path? Where are the bases?
I hate to break this to you, but there is no path. The bases — they’re there — but they may look very different from what you expected them to be. Your bases will no longer be the cookie-cutter milestones; yours will come in the form of therapy goals.
You will find your way around those bases, but a word of caution: You probably won’t slide into any of them. In fact, you just might crawl. You will work harder than you ever imagined getting to each one — blood, sweat and tears — but you will get there.
Your coaches will change, too. They will become your therapists, your teachers and maybe a few doctors if you’re lucky. Each one will have a different set of rules, but the truth is, they’re also navigating this new game right along with you. They’ve coached many other players, but not this one.
Choose the coaches who work best for you and your child. You know your child, and you make the rules. Trust your gut. It’s your game. There is no one who loves your child — and will fight for this win — more than you.
There will be many other people in the crowd who have never played your game but want to offer you advice. They haven’t played a minute of it — not even a second. Keep your head down and focus on your game.
Beware: The fans will be slow to come. In fact, the seats are empty with the exception of a very few die-hard season ticketholders. You will feel very alone — the loneliest you’ve ever felt in your life. The sooner you let your fans back into your ballpark, the easier it will be. You need a cheering section. And sure, they may not understand the game you’re playing, but they still want to cheer you on. And you need it. Trust me, you will need it.
Scout out your new teammates and keep them close — they are fellow special needs parents. You will need people around you who are playing in your league. They will become your dugout and your safe place. They will be by your side, celebrating all of the wins and losses, the strikeouts, and, most importantly, the home runs along the way. Their bases will be in different places than yours, and they’ll be running on their own path, but you’re all in it together. You will not have the full team you once dreamed of in this dugout, but each one who joins you will become an MVP in your life. Forever.
Fellow special needs parents, you may feel like you are playing an impossible game sometimes. You may feel like you’re running circles around the bases. You may feel like you’re on the ultimate underdog team that works harder than any other team but still doesn’t ever stand a chance. Some days you may feel like you only strike out and never score. You may feel beaten down, and sometimes, you may feel like giving up.
Please trust me, you have more heart, grit, love and passion for this game than any team out there. You may feel like giving up, but you never will. Just take a time out when you need one. You may need to walk once in a while, too — you can’t always run. You will eventually find the bases. Get them loaded in your own time.
You are in this game to win it, and you will. And it will feel better than you ever imagined it could. That’s because you didn’t just make it to the major leagues. You are playing in the World Series of parenting, and you’ve worked damn hard to get here.
This season isn’t at all what you expected or dreamed for yourself, but it will be, quite possibly, the biggest and most rewarding accomplishment of your entire life. The thrill of each win this season will exceed everything you ever imagined — and then some.
Go get that grand slam and clinch this game. You’ve earned it.
And that ballpark of yours? It better be sold out.
Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images