Last week, I purchased a top-of-the-line 4K LED Smart TV with enough options to bedazzle even the most technologically gifted. Some of the features were intuitive enough that I proudly disregarded the instruction manual altogether. To my dismay, I soon discovered that a good number of even the simplest functions were complicated, puzzling and downright impossible to comprehend even with the handy user’s manual.
New Toy – LED TV
Realizing my dependence on this pamphlet of how-tos, I reflected upon all the parenting guides I have purchased over the years, all dealing with every different aspect of the child imaginable: the terrible twos, sleeplessness, anxiety, positive discipline, the emotional lives of boys, tolerating teens, etc The one book I have yet to come across is called the “THE MANUAL: Raising Kids With An Unexpected Diagnosis (Like CMT, a Progressive Nerve Disease).”
My instruction booklet was not included in my take-home packet from the hospital when Yohan was born 25 years ago, and I still fantasize about getting my hands on a copy of this yet non-existent source of knowledge.
Initially, I learned to care for my bundle of joy by asking questions, reading a selective few of those parenting books I mentioned above, taking advice from others (even if unsolicited) and relied heavily on my own maternal instincts. Through trial and error, my husband and I, as do most parents, strove to raise and nurture our child to be a resilient human being, who would hopefully be happy, successful, compassionate, friendly, confident, etc….. None of these attributes are ever guaranteed, but parents can and do influence their children to a very large degree by modeling behaviors and values, including empathic listening, acceptance of the whole child, unconditional love, acceptance and positive discipline.
Born with unique dispositions and temperaments, every child will integrate what he or she witnesses, observes and experiences to form a personality, which is in a state of constant flux, molding to and shaped by the surrounding environment. Raising children is truly a humbling adventure, where perfecting parental skills comes through valiant efforts on the part of the father and/or mother to do the best they can at any given moment.
And just to keep us on our toes, life has this nasty habit of throwing wrenches into our well thought-out and admirable plans and dreams, forcing us to change directions or reroute our individual and family’s journey throughout life over and over again.
For instance, when parents are told that their apparently healthy and precious child has a progressive neurological disease called CMT, (or any other chronic illness or disability) the world as they knew it comes to an abrupt halt. For a while, time just seems to stop as the shock of reality works its way through to the senses. With no current treatment or cure, CMT is a group of diseases whose effects vary greatly from one person to the next, even among members of the same family. The fear of an uncertain future for our beloved child creates a chaos so disruptive, parents may inevitably experience and re-experience a whole gamut of different feelings anywhere from grief, rage, disbelief, depression, anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, to guilt and disappointment. This flurry of unyielding and varied sets of emotions is unequivocally normal and expected in the face of such devastating and unwelcome news.
We immediately wonder what this diagnosis means for our child’s future – will she be able to play the piano, have children and fulfill her dreams as an actress? Will his legs remain strong, what about his basketball career, and just how much will my son be affected? Will he/she become more or less disabled than me, than my mother, than other family members? As concerned parents, we all have a tendency to get ahead of ourselves by asking a million questions about the fate of our children by continuously wondering and inquiring about what the future has in store, trying to predict what cannot be foreseen.
To top it off, in the midst of this traumatic news, unsettled parents must return home to their children, bearing the intolerable news that will inevitably change the lives of every single member of that particular family. How hard it is to remain calm, in control and at ease after you’ve been hit with the CMT hammer! In these delicate situations, let’s not forget that children are savvy readers of parental anxiety, tension, and stress. They are inexorably influenced by our attitudes, opinions, and expressions as they learn a great deal about themselves by watching, listening and absorbing all the subtle messages left behind in conversations to be had both in public and in private. They definitely do not wish to see us devastated by their disease (even if we are) and need most of all to be comforted, supported and understood.
So, when a parent unintentionally acts out his or her intense sadness, despair and anxiety in front of their children, the child is sure to take it all in, every bit of it. If our children receive messages confirming that their own situation is hopeless and the future bleak, he or she will surely feel out of control and helpless in the face of upcoming and ongoing adversity. However, if our kids are met with reassurance and optimism, they will be more likely to cope adequately, if not conquer the intermittent hurdles that are bound to appear throughout their lives. So, the quicker we as parents learn to “deal effectively” with the challenges presented by CMT, the quicker our children will build the necessary coping skills and resilience to live well despite this disease.
Let me qualify the expression “dealing effectively with CMT” as an extremely subjective experience, which takes on a different meaning for each and every one of us. Coming to terms with your child’s progressive disease and limitations takes a lot of time and energy, and as you already know, this does not happen overnight, if ever at all.
There are still moments when I am angry at this disease and obstinately think of Yohan’s CMT to be the ultimate definition of unfair lots in life, followed by a pathetic, “Why me?”, “Why him?”, “Why us?” I usually manage to calm down by focusing on what he can do, by living in the present moment and by appreciating the gifts of today. I also fervently practice replacing my negative and catastrophic thoughts with a more positive and realistic perspective which encompasses a broader, less self-centered approach to challenging situations.
The brutal reality is that I cannot control his disease or make it go away. However, we as parents are far from powerless and impotent. On the contrary, by sharing an unwavering hope for the future, role modeling coping mechanisms such as humor, optimism, faith while remaining connected to others for support, we are fostering resiliency and courage in our children, traits on which they will rely heavily today, tomorrow and the days to come.
Let me reiterate that as parents, we have the capacity to guide and support our children, despite the absence of that darn manual. There are always silver linings to all black clouds, you may just have to look for them. Hurdles and stumbling blocks exist to a greater or lesser extent in everyone’s life and many times, these challenges will bring families closer together or even offer a deeper, more meaningful purpose to life itself. Whatever afflicts us or our loved ones and no matter how severely, life is truly what we make of it. By planting the seeds of hope, confidence, and self-assurance, we are offering our children the right to a bright and fruitful future.
Whether it be CMT or some other uninvited disease, our children will have acquired the tools with which to triumph over whatever may befall them, because YOU, as parents, have given them the means. No one ever said that a parenting is an easy endeavor, but your hard work, time and patience is and will make a marked difference in the minds and lives of your children and the generations to come. Manual or no manual, your kids will be forever grateful, which I deem the best award a parent could ever receive.
I may only be 72 years young but I feel empowered to possibly help someone else facing these same issues by understanding the ordeal that a family is faced with and to share with others. Thank you for sharing Elizabeth.
Thanks for your kind words, George. You have been one of our biggest supporters and I cannot thank you enough for your love, caring and continued backing. I love you. Thank you.
Your writing so beautifully inspires me and is applicable in many different circumstances. I’ll hold your words dear and continue to reread them. Who would have known all those years ago we’d be facing similar challenges. Our meeting was destiny, one we’ve all embraced! xo SJ
SJ – You are right! Who would have known? I’ve always felt such a strong bond with you, and now we are melded together for life – I couldn’t ask for a better friend – and I feel closer each day because I know you understand….and you smile and laugh and joke and play. I love that about you.
A beautiful essay/story, Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing. I know the circumstances but not all of the feelings and you shared them in such a positive, beautiful, and realistic way. You and Gilles are such great parents and you raised a wonderful child in Johan.
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Tracy, Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment. It means so much to me. And thank you for your kind words. I will hold them close and cherish them…forever.
Thank you for your sharing of rich, inspiring experience, Elizabeth. In light of the wider applicability of your blog entry here to other genetically-borne progressive disorders, may I recommend a work of literary fiction, Kim Edwards’ *The Memory Keeper’s Daughter* (2005). (If you are not already familiar with it, you will immediately see why.)
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Thanks so much for the recommendation! I will definitely look into this work of fiction. Thanks so much for reading my blog and commenting. I appreciate your interest and your feedback! Have a great day!
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Thank you Elizabeth, I hope many parents of children with disabilities will read this. No there is no manual but what you said, says it all “parents can and do influence their children to a very large degree by modeling behaviors and values, including empathic listening, acceptance of the whole child, unconditional love, acceptance and positive discipline.” You yourself have had to deal with a disabled child like Yohan, and you are doing the best things for him as you and your husband have done and still do. Thank you for this blog as it is very important because we must instill confidence and a positive outlook on life no matter what a child’s disability may be. And I just love this part of your blog “life is truly what we make of it. By planting the seeds of hope, confidence, and self-assurance, we are offering our children the right to a bright and fruitful future.” Thank you again Elizabeth and God bless you my friend.
Quentin You are such a positive person. Thanks for your commentary and letting me know what parts of the article spoke to you. I am so lucky to have good friends like you!
Thank you for your insights, Elizabeth. Your words and work bring great hope to CMT families.