Several times this month, I’ve had conversations with quite a few special parents of premature babies (mothers mainly) who have expressed feelings of regret, what if’s, if only I had known’s, etc, etc. They have fallen into a type of guilt that has at its core the feeling that we parents have not done as much as we could have for our kids or made the right decisions concerning them because we didn’t know x, y & z. I understand this completely as I have had this feeling sometimes myself, as I’m sure many of you have as well.
While all parents experience some level of guilt at some point along their parenting journeys, for parents of children born prematurely, sick and/or who have special needs, this feeling can be much more intense and continuous. For many of us, the autonomy of our parenting role (i.e. making independent decisions regarding our children) is either taken away or significantly reduced and/or complicated by a host of other professionals (i.e. doctors, social workers, therapists, nurses, special education personnel, etc) who rapidly become involved in the care of our children.
Although necessary and beneficial in many cases, this expansive team of ‘pseudo’ parents, who advise us on everything from how to nurse our premature child to how to communicate with our child who has autism and everything else in between, can actually silently chip away at our confidence as parents. How? Because we start listening so much to the external experts that we fail to listen to the internal instinctive expertise of own selves. The things we know as parents get drowned out by our emphasis on and worry over the things we don’t know.
If you are fretting over all of the things you don’t know – please stop – and remember the one (1) thing I want to share with you this month.
You only know what you know when you know it.
That’s it, plain and simple. By this, I mean that you can only respond to situations and/or make decisions based off of the available information you have in that moment.
A few personal examples: when I was pregnant with Alejandro, we flew several times both within Europe (where we were living at the time) and internationally. I had asked my doctor if flying was ok and without hesitation he said yes. Now, after Alejandro’s early birth and the loss of 3 other pregnancies, my current doctor (who is a high-risk specialist) strongly advises against air travel throughout pregnancy but especially during the 1st 14 weeks. He says that the change in altitude that occurs during flying can negatively impact the growth, development and viability of the developing baby. Now, if I had known that piece of information beforehand, I definitely wouldn’t have traveled like I did…..but I didn’t know, so made decisions based off of what was accurate for me at the time.
Another one: When I initially started working as a therapist in a London hospital, many of my patients had written in their referral notes that they had either gone to or were going to go to ‘theatre’. After seeing quite a few of these, I started to wonder whether our hospital had some kind of special connection to the arts world, given that so many patients were being given the amazing opportunity to see a play or show at the theatre during their hospital stay! What a innovative way to help in the healing of patients, I thought, and why couldn’t they do that in the US healthcare system? After all, we have an array of cultural centers in many US towns/cities. How utterly embarrassed I was when I found out that ‘theatre’ in British English meant the operating room in American English. A silly story I know but another way to emphasize that my initial judgement of the UK health system was based off of what I knew.
In both cases above, I made decisions and judgments based off of my current knowledge at the time, and in both cases, I learned something new in the end. The latter one also gave me something to laugh about. Likewise, we as parents, are constantly making medical, educational and financial decisions and judgements about our children and taking actions based of what we know….and honestly that is all that we can do or be expected to do, regardless of the outcome. As our knowledge grows, our decisions may/may not change, and that’s more than ok. The unknown is just that – unknown. So, what value or benefit will it be to you to spend all of your mental energy over things you don’t know?
So, I challenge and encourage you to be content in the knowledge that you know enough about yourself, your child and your situation to successfully and beautifully get through the next second, the next hour, through the rest of today….and along the way, be confident that you are making and will continue make the best decisions that are right for you and your family.
I applaud you and know that you are and will continue to be the best mums/dads that you can be – regardless of what you know or don’t know.