Editor's note: This article was originally published on Tove Maren's blog, Mama in the Now. It has been republished here with permission.
We all have our own currency of happiness. What makes me happy, may not make you happy, and it may very well not make someone else happy – unless they keep an open mind.
We count our pennies, dimes and quarters of happiness until we have whole dollars – big chunks of unadulterated pure bliss. Some of my friends appreciate material goods, collect them and gather enough to reach a euphoric state of elation after a successful shopping trip. Others revel in success, good old fashion elbow grease until the mission has been accomplished. They proudly display their fancy corporate title, name drop when telling stories of their latest travels and three course business dinner meetings. But those are not my measures of happiness.
So what is my happiness currency? Well, a recent trip to Starbucks made me think about it a little deeper. I was waiting in line when I overheard two friends talking. They were discussing a mutual friend who had just had her second child. The child was apparently born with several medical issues and would require special attention for the rest of her life. They expressed sympathy for the new mother and even went as far as to say: "I feel so bad. She wanted a baby so badly and then THIS happens to her." I had to exhibit great restraint in order not to jump into the conversation. But I felt that eavesdropping was a grave offense all in its own, so there was no need to draw any unnecessary attention to myself. But I left there wondering if that is how people truly feel about families with "special" children.
Do people pity those of us who are on a medical journey with our kids? Do they think our lives are less happy because of our kids? Wow – that thought baffled me, sent an electric shock through my body. Never once have I ever thought that our lives were less happy because we travel a road filled with doctor appointments, worries, hand sanitizer, precautions, medications, concerns and uncertainty. It never dawned on me that others view us as a bunch of sad saps because of our child's health.
We are blessed to have met countless fellow "medical parents," families who also have children with chronic medical conditions of varying degrees of severity and rarity. One common message from each and every one of those families has always been that their lives are not any less happy because of their special child. In contrast, they have happiness BECAUSE of their child.
Is life more hectic with a medical child? The answer is "of course." Do medical concerns drain you emotionally, financially and eventually put a strain on every relationship in your life? You bet they do. BUT, having a child who requires extra attention makes you appreciate life and teaches you to see things in a whole new way.
Life and happiness are no longer measured in big currency. You cannot wait to collect enough happiness coins to make a whole dollar before you crack a smile or celebrate a milestone. Our children teach us that every happiness coin, every penny is a cause for celebration. While others wait to praise the Lord until they earn a promotion or can afford a new car, we celebrate each day as if it was an annual event. Every ounce gained, every quarter of an inch grown is documented. Every smile, swim in the pool, bike ride or completed Lego project are greeted with a "high five" and an "atta boy!" We "medical parents" know how to party and live life.
At the risk of using corporate speak, we "dial life down to a granular level." We do not live in a macro world, our lives are not viewed from the top down. Our vantage point is from the bottom up. We enjoy the world on a micro-level, taking pleasure from every little tiny morsel of happiness we can scoop into our hands and hold close to our hearts. We are the most thankful, thoughtful and caring people, because we know first-hand how frail life can be.
So when you find yourself talking to your friends about someone with a special child. Please tell the world that they were blessed to become that child's parent. Medical parents do not want pity, we may need a hug once in a while, but not pity. So when you are ready to live life to its fullest, make friends with someone who has a special child, because our children ARE our happiness.
Tove Maren is a Danish-American mother of four boys, ages 8 and younger. She is a freelance writer and translator. Tove reports live from the trenches of motherhood where she writes about all things related to life love, laughter and LEGOs. You will find her encouraging, as she empowers you to parent by intuition and with confidence.