Parenting-impaired: dilemmas and purpose

There are days when I feel like I have a third disability; very often I feel utterly broken when it comes to being a parent. Cognitively, logically, I feel like there are things I should be and should be able to do. But I can’t be. Or won’t be.

I’m not sure. I get frustrated with my daughter fairly quickly when the pain (from my neuropathic condition) ramps up and my body is in agony while at the same time I’m supposed to love and nourish this life that I’m responsible for bringing into the world.

It could be that there are mental/emotional effects, like to depression, of my condition. That seems reasonable given that my sleep tends to be poor, and I get exhausted both from the lack of good sleep, as well as the never-ending process of trying to transcend the pain that is always present.

None of which is to make an excuse, but there seems to be explanatory power in what I’ve just said. As an avowed Existentialist and disciple of Jean-Paul Sartre, I’d never relinquish responsibility, anyway; the surrounding situation, however, warrants looking at in terms of how we decide what it is we’re about to do.

So. I get angry. Right quick, in fact, and the more pain I’m in, the quicker I am to get really angry.

And I hate this part. I hate being angry. I hate feeling bound to an insecure notion that somehow my world is going to be upset when the little girl who loves me and wants to play with me gets well beyond my control.

It is control, I think, and the fact that I think I need it, or love having it. But the long and short of it is that control is precisely the issue when it comes to parenting; being disabled just means that I have to respond differently, and try to make my wife and child aware of what’s going on with me physically.

If you think it’s easy to explain what happens when you have Autoimmune Autonomic Ganglionopathy to a four-year-old, well…and that’s part of the control issue, although perhaps in a purely psychological sense; I think, “My body went AWOL, and I’m stuck with the consequences. Lovely.”

What I tried and try to do (and I noticed this especially during a particularly wretched ten month stretch), is protect the sanctity of the small sphere that is my world. To wit, I try to keep everyone else out, so that once I’ve gotten comfortable, once I feel like I’ve a good grip on the day, then I’m like the proverbial cornered beast, a second away from rage and I lash out with all I’ve got when something, or someone threaten to rupture that balance.

I try to manage pain by limiting contact; I don’t want to get bumped or made to move when I’m doing good.

Photo by Andrii Nikolaienko from Pexels

And it isn’t ok. It isn’t supposed to be the way parenting goes; at least, I believe firmly that parenting is about love, and support, and raising a little human being who’s going to have to grow up and be free and responsible. I want to be her teacher. I adore her. She brightens up my whole world, so naturally it’s crushing emotionally to be the father who’s reduced to spluttering and stammering when it all goes south for me.

Of course it hasn’t all gone south, and maybe she won’t even remember some of these episodes, but that doesn’t mean I want to be a miserable excuse for a parent. I really wanted to be one, after all.

My wife has often told me, reminded me that the epic moments in a child’s life (cue successful potty-training) are not about me; by inserting my own needs within the child’s growth and development, I’m distracting, even delaying important events. But then relentless pain has a way of sticking it’s unwelcome head into everything, and the stuff I should remember gets kicked.

I should listen to my wife. She’s got the right idea. It t is about me, in the sense that I need to be a respectful, thoughtful person who has the child’s best interest in mind; it’s not about me in the sense that I’m not the one who’s developing in these particular, child-like ways.

A life coach once taught me that the way to retain control (and this is emphatically self-control, how we respond to a given situation), is to let go of it. I can’t control my daughter, or my wife, or anyone else, and I don’t really want to. However, I do want to be the kind of person who responds, rather than reacts with knee-jerk quickness to a situation that ought to be, perhaps, even humourous.

Photo by Klas Tauberman from Pexels

The life coach suggested that I the next time I was prepared to get angry for some violation of my personal space, or something equally mundane, I should think: “What kind of relationship do I want to have with my daughter?”

It was amazing, the first time I tried it. The more I thought about it, and the oftener I helped myself by stepping back and asking myself how best to respond, then our relationship began to go that direction. That simple question helped me let go of some of my control issues.

It isn’t always easy to do, though, and I’m far from perfect. Parenting is a dynamic animal, there are always changes in the people involved all the time. We shouldn’t expect, then, to be able to figure out a straightforward, static course from the moment our children are born. But every time I remember to ask myself that question, “What do I want this relationship to look like?”, I am put back in a position to think hard about what my response to a given situation is.

I very much hope a day is coming when I don’t forget to ask this crucial question. I hope I can keep remembering that it’s not about me.




Former hairstylist, perpetual philosophy student, swallowed by poetry, writing, ideas

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J.D. Harms

J.D. Harms

Former hairstylist, perpetual philosophy student, swallowed by poetry, writing, ideas

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