Have you ever had a commercial slogan or jingle stuck in your head? Of course you have!
I’m dating myself, I know, but back in the early ‘90’s there was a commercial that used to tout a certain cough syrup’s superiority by boasting that it was not only prescribed by physicians and pharmacists, but it was also recommended by “Doctor Mom.” It stuck with me. The implication was that because of their endless involvement in the lives of their offspring, mothers quickly develop wise discernment when it comes to best choices for their children.
Although the advertisement was a bit hokey, it seems an apt description for parents thrust into the role of special caregiver. While the “experts” often look down at us as mere maintenance workers in the home, no one knows a child as well as the one raising them. It is that nuanced learning of the day-in and day-out that creates an amazing skill set in us.
It seems that there are personal phases of study and comprehension to raising our children with challenges:
The Student – Almost from the minute the initial wall of shock barrels into you, the learning begins. Whether you want to be enrolled or not, you are pupil in the academy of chronic illness, disability, and/or special needs. Questions ricochet off the sides of your brain like weighty pinballs whose answers affect your entire future. Despite exhaustion from sleepless nights of care and concern, the student soon learns to be on high alert at all times.
The Intern – Once you move through the denial and anger of this often grief-filled journey, you change your orientation towards a new and different life. The student has now become the intern. It is time to pull on your grown-up pants. This is your destiny. We aren’t playing around here, pretending any more. You realize there is much for you to learn, and you must always be paying attention.
The Resident – You have redefined “normal” in your life. While that may leave you a bit cynical at times, you have a far less naïve view of your world. You have picked up some amazing skills along the way, especially learning the value of listening to other parents who have travelled this path. Your problem-solving skills are stretched and grown with the many obstacles you face. You gain some major confidence that you can do this.
Doctor Mom – Just as you were told early on in this process, NO ONE knows your child like you. While you may not have all of the answers, your developing advocacy skills have taught you when to press for them. You know in your gut when things are not quite right. You have honed a proficiency that you may not even perceive. This expertise has enabled you to override recommendations of medical staff, educators, and therapists when you suspect a better alternative. Living with these diagnoses has become second nature to you. While it may still be heartbreaking at times, you have so much to offer.
This is one of the God-given gifts of “Mom’s Medical School” – You have so much wisdom, compassion, and knowledge to pass along to other parents. You can coach those coming up behind you on what to look for and what to ask in times of crisis. You develop a sense of gallows humor that lightens the load of those in the thick of a weighty life. People can rely on you more than anyone else to not say something completely stupid, but rather to offer a knowing nod and a comforting hug. You are not dismissive like your child’s medical staff, unyielding like some of the school staff, or alienating like family and neighbors.
THESE are some of the many reasons I am such a proponent and fan of parent-to-parent mentoring. When one parent comes alongside another, it is sacred ground – Christ moving through the everyday, the tender interaction of peers.
I don’t know where you are in this process – and it IS a lifelong process – but take a glance backward, dear caregiver. Look how far God has brought you! Catch a glimpse of what is ahead. You may not be pulling down a six-figure income doing this, but the experience is PRICELESS. This may not be a profession you would have chosen for yourself, but the Lord has equipped you along the way with everything you need to not only care for your own child, but also to bless others who will trod the rocky ground behind and beside you.