Everyone knows what it’s like to endure hardship; suffering; challenges in life. Everyone has their own story; their own experiences; their own personal struggles and difficulties. Sometimes within the disability community and even in the wider general community, it can feel like we are sometimes getting into an argument about who is worse off – who has the hardest circumstances. I don’t find comparisons useful in any context. Your worst day is your worst day, irrespective of everyone else and their worst days. It’s relative to you and your life, and your experiences.
As parents, don’t we all worry about the same things? Health; finances; happiness; whether your children are sleeping well or not; whether your child is happy at school; if your child is eating well; keeping our relationships with friends, family and partners positive and life giving; the future for your family and your children; having time to do the things we want to do for fun and making time to the things we don’t want to do, but have to! There are so many things that are common to the human experience. And for the challenges that we don’t share and haven’t experienced for ourselves, there is empathy. It is the ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” and walk a while in them, often then recognising and relating to the hurt of the person suffering.
I know parents who have relinquished their children because they simply could not keep their children safe and sustain care for them in the home environment. I know parents who are more-or-less home bound because of the huge needs of their children. I know parents who suffer extreme financial hardship due to therapy costs; being unable to work part time or even at all in some cases because they are primary carers for their children. I know some families who struggle to access appropriate respite services and as single parents, this means they rarely if ever get a break, a good sleep or any down time. I know some parents who are so completely exhausted that they are quite seriously almost certifiable.
I acknowledge the suffering and pain of all these families and dream one day of a system and a society that will support these families and their children and enhance the quality of their respective existences. In the meantime, there is much we can do for those who are suffering and often it starts quite simply – with empathy, kindness and compassion. An understanding and listening ear; a home cooked meal; mowing a lawn; offering to mind their children for a while; taking their ironing or washing home to do; turning up with a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine to share; checking in with them regularly to ensure they are managing – simple acts of kindness and compassion.
Encountering difficulties in our own lives (hopefully) makes us more empathetic to others’ suffering and circumstances. This empathy and understanding will bring about the kindness, love and support that others in our lives will need during their toughest times. And hopefully, the same will be returned to you in your times of trouble. We are all a part of a whole, and this whole should not be in divided and fragmented parts – it should be one, united whole. Irrespective of your personal circumstances or preferences or choices in life, we are all part of this whole, diverse world. The Autism community, the disability community, the Indigenous community, the Gay community, the various religious organisations, schools etc – we all belong to the same whole. It certainly does take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village – a community of care and support – to ease the road for many individuals and families suffering hardship. Your worst day is your worst day, no matter what that “worst day” looks like. It’s all relative to you and your life, and your own experiences. We are all in this together. Let’s show kindness and compassion to one another, embracing our diversity and accepting one another without condition.
“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adler