Only those going through it can truly appreciate the massive impact that an unhealthy child will have on a parent. They are a living expression of the fact that every life is precious.
Despite every life’s remarkable value, we can innocently come see our lives as a blind routines, where the loved ones we encounter each day are taken for granted. They lose their value only because we’ve lost consciousness of the fact that no life is guaranteed.
That lack of awareness applies to ourselves as well, so it serves us well to remember that –sick child or not– the parents lives are also precious. We are all someone’s child, and we are all worthy of the care we require when we’re under extreme strain.
There is no question that the child comes first. But the sheer enormity of the feelings associated with the child’s experience makes having a ‘sick kid’ a taxing time for any parent. That’s exactly why it is important for the parents to not be entirely absent from their own consideration.
None of us can drive the people we love to where they want to go if we don’t ensure we have the fuel to get there.
It depends on the dynamics of the family, the individuals, the ages, the reason the child is in the hospital –each family reacts differently. Under whichever conditions, and for no intentional reasons, some marriages grow closer and some become strained.
Even in many strained relationships, the marriages are fine, but very stressed people can have trouble recognizing that without a very particular kind of help. And people often know they need that help, but they’ll also often have narratives that appear to prevent them from following their own beckoning wisdom.
In these narratives, the parents of ‘sick kids’ tell themselves stories about being a bad parent, being selfish, about how they should ‘buck-up,’ or about how weak they are to feel genuinely weak. But those narratives are all just words.
If parents recognize the ephemeral nature of thought, their choice of action can contradict the stories they concoct in their heads. We are all always free to ignore all of that rationalization and we can trade that for trusting ourselves to know whether or not we need care. If we do, there is no shame in calling to get it.
Having an actual ‘sick kid’ is simply an awful experience. But going through that experience with a better understanding of ourselves can profoundly impact how we engage with life and with others –including our sick kids.
The unfortunate challenges in life can also be experiences that help us discover closer, deeper versions of our connections to others. Turning a negative into a positive; that’s how powerful love is.
These are times in which many people feel harried and overwhelmed. We are in a world torqued by division and judgment, where so many so often feel weak, or sad, or angry, or helpless. It’s almost a tragedy that our distracted attention and impatience mean that many times we cannot engage with some of the most meaningful experiences in life.
While it may seem to be totally unlikely for most readers, Esquire’s brilliant 2017 piece on Mr. Rogers invites us to have such an experience. At a time when life feels short, and fast, and harsh, and superficial, Tom Junod introduces us to the depth of a man who is impossibly patient, kind, loving and strong.
In almost every way Fred McFeely Rogers and I could not be more different people. Where he is a minister, with a wife and family, in a cardigan, on a kid’s show; I am single man whose passions have played out by racing cars, playing in blues or jazz bands, and by intellectualizing or philosophizing about science, business and the modern world.
I cannot help but look at Mr. Rogers with awe and humility. If he is a caress, I am a straight-razor.
Despite those differences, there is one key way in which I feel that Mr. Rogers and I are essentially identical: our vision. There is, after all, a central, fundamental truth to all human beings. While we may all have our differences and our unique qualities, in a way far too beautiful for me to capture in words, it is as though everyone and everything on Earth shares a single soul.
It is as though a single source of glorious light is coming from every direction. And in that light a truth exists; a kind of knowledge that is at the source of everything. In Fred Rogers words, or in his reactions to any person, he is always responding to that central truth.
Mr. Rogers does not look at a troubled toddler threateningly waving a sword as being an angry, unapproachable person –he sees a child; worried and afraid; a soul who seeks to return to love and who requires comforting. This is the gift of vision; to see the truth behind the ego’s facade.
All of us know the wonderful feeling we get when are able to do something of value for someone we care a great deal about. Now imagine doing something like that for a person who is a hero to you –someone you love and respect more than any other person in the world. Then imagine that everyone you meet feels like that person.
People doubt or wonder how I can say that I can love everyone the moment I meet them. And I realize that can seem strange or unlikely until you consider this: what’s strange isn’t my reaction, it’s people’s inability to see how incredible and worthy of love they truly are. It’s not my or Mr. Roger’s vision or sense of others that is special –it’s all of you.
I do not think as others think, so I cannot maintain the shroud of thought that others so commonly use to darken their spirits. While others question why the comforting light of our shared soul has passed them over, I see only beauty, strength, genius and grace.
If you would like to see this fractured world as this single, beautiful, glowing reality, may I recommend an exercise? Today I would like you to do me a personal favour:
I want you to choose someone today who you deeply admire –someone who inspires you to show them the sort of appreciation and patience that can only be made present by love. I would like you to show them kindness. Express your deep affection and respect, and be profoundly generous with the faith you place in them. And as one final, additional favour to me, I would like that person to be you.
I may be nothing like Mr. Rogers. You may be nothing like me. But this I know: we are all born from the same source. The light we see in others is the same light that shines within us. So as you would look upon the person most beloved to you, cast that vision upon yourself, unclouded by a veil of thought. It is only then, in that sacred silence, that will you get a glimpse of what Fred Rogers and I see when we behold the glory that is you.
In my previous post I discussed a form of intense anxiety that leads to a form of depression. In this case, the effects of anxiety are less acute and extreme, but the overall impact to someone’s life is still very serious.
There is a new type of person that has inadvertently emerged in large part due to the advent of personal computing and video game culture. That personality type has only expanded thanks to the internet, cell phones and texting, food delivery services and, to some degree, ‘social’ media (it’s almost ironic to call it ‘social’).
Prior to those inventions there were shy people –even extremely shy people– but there was no effective way for anyone to hide from others without it being obvious, and often financially impossible. The closest thing to modern social anxiety were people who read an enormous amount, but even they were forced to mix more with other people just due to the in-person nature of society at the time.
Today it is possible for an adolescent to shy away from uncomfortable social contact almost completely. They can make friends through their computer or phone where most or all of their ‘friends’ are in other cities, and where they require some form of electronic connection to make contact.
This means a shy or awkward person can now literally ‘shut off’ anyone they find annoying or threatening, or even just those that make them feel even a bit uncomfortable. This is problematic because those are formative years when people would normally be making the sorts of embarrassing in-person social mistakes that ultimately lead to the development of healthy social skills.
The issue for these future adults is that they can now prevent themselves from having almost all of the experiences that would actually teach them how to relate to the rest of society. To a young person’s mind, being able to hide like that can feel like a comforting level of power. But it also has serious downsides.
In the adult world everyone’s jobs, relationships, and lives will demand that they spend time with people that they find difficult, or with people that don’t particularly like them. Avoiding the skill development we all need for those situations can soon evolve into what gets called ‘social anxiety disorder.’
The upside is that this is a very fixable situation. Just as a lack of exposure to others creates social awkwardness and fear, more exposure demonstrates that the downsides of social interactions are no where near as meaningful to us as the upsides. Humans were built to work in groups, so it is our nature to ultimately succeed at this process. But what stops most people today is fear.
For a previous generation that fear was largely overcome by parents that were viewed much differently. Next to no kids had input on dinner or holidays, there was no real ability to escape chores, and they were put into classes they disliked ‘because it was good for them.’ Even ‘talking back’ was often met with serious punishment.
Back then, the choice for an adolescent was to be kicked out to fend for oneself, or do as ones parents wanted. That culture had significant downsides too, but one of its most important upsides was that shy kids were effectively forced to interact.
A good example of this is Bill Gates, who by all appearances exhibits strong tendencies toward a socially awkward or even an Asperger-like nature. As I’ve noted previously, the recent three part documentary on him demonstrates, his sisters note that a lot of Bill’s success came as a result of his mother ‘forcing’ him to act as the social greeter at the family’s country club.
By being ‘forced’ to have that social contact, a very shy Bill Gates –who probably would have preferred to stay in his basement working on code with maybe one close friend– instead became the sort of person who could run one of the largest companies on Earth, and who has gone on to run one of the world’s largest charities.
Bill Gates still doesn’t appear to love social situations, but the point is that he can function in them. That ability is a key part of what he has been able to accomplish in his life. As his sisters suggest in the documentary, without his mother and that exposure, Bill could easily have been one of the first generation of people to be crippled by a form of social anxiety disorder.
The challenge for modern parents is, they are bringing up children in a much more complex world.
In the end, in many cases, the influence of a parent is limited when a child is carrying a powerful computer with them everywhere they go. Even if they are instructed to ‘go socialize,’ it is easy for them to still avoid interaction through their smartphone.
This new technical ability means too many people are now reaching adulthood without having developed the skills needed to be a successful adult.
Fortunately all is not lost. In fact, the biggest barrier to making meaningful changes is the initial resistance of the young adult who needs a healthier approach. Once they have accepted that –at least in the way I approach it– most people find the socialization discussions we have to be interesting, sensible and motivating.
By developing a better understanding of the nature of society, the nature of human personality, and the nature of how our thoughts can impact both, most people find that the training process makes them feel increasingly alive. The world gets bigger and more exciting –and more inviting.
Far from hiding from the world, socially comfortable people become more interested in both participating in it, and affecting it.
If someone feels increasingly trapped by their lifestyle and they can sense the impact that can or will have on everything from their career to their love life, then they should know that they are closer to making changes than they may realize.
There is nothing inherently wrong with a shy person, they simply need to work with someone who can help them to find their place in the world in comfortable, inviting way.
Of course no changes can happen until we take the first step, which is to seek the help and then move thorough a process. It may sound corny, but the saying ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life‘ is always true. So none of us should hide from the world.
If any of this sounds like you or your child, then please get in touch with me or someone else who can help you navigate this change. Any resistance will only be as ephemeral as thought. And I know for my part I would be happy to meet anyone, no matter how awkward they think they might be.