Did you see this post buzzing around Facebook over the summer?
If you are in my age demographic of 30 (cough, cough, 30-something) then you probably did. The message of the post resonated with a fair number of my friends. This post talked about the public pool and how it is the perfect metaphor for life.
Dietrich groups women who enjoy the public pool into three different categories: the 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and 40-somethings.
She explains that the 20-somethings have the freedom to lay out at the pool with only the worry of getting the perfect tan and posting a flawless Instagram picture.
The 30-somethings, on the other hand, are deep in the trenches of parenting. They are wading in the pool holding onto a young child and praying that a meltdown doesn’t occur. The only thing they want in life is for their little angel to sleep through the night. They are in the stage of parenting where they feel like they are in a constant cycle of eat, sleep, poop. Where every second of every day is spent watching, wondering, and worrying about a child. The time in their life when they are so consumed in the day-to-day of parenting that they think “Will I ever be able to go to the bathroom alone?”
The last group is the 40-somethings who have the experience and love of raising a young child, but as their child is growing, they are also slowly regaining their freedom. This is the next level of parenting, where you can go to a party, send your kids out to play and know that they are going to come back alive.
The post says, “Hey I am with you… I know it is hard… but guess what? Your 40s are coming and they are going to be amazing. You are going to have the time to gain back your pre-baby toned body, you are going to be able to have a conversation that doesn’t include Daniel Tiger, and you are going to be able to pee in peace.”
I know why my friends connected with the article. I have watched their kids grow out of diapers and into independence. I have watched their kids learn how to entertain themselves, and I have watched their kids develop social skills and safety awareness.
All the while, my own son hasn’t learned these skills yet. See, my son is on the autism spectrum and there is a peculiar wiring in his brain that doesn’t allow for him to easily master many skills that are instinctual for most children. His chronological age is six, but developmentally, he is closer to three. I am the mom of a child with special needs.
Instead of feeling encouraged and thinking that I can put in another hard fought five years into this battle, my heart sank a little after I read this article. I am not stuck deep in the throes of being a parent to a young child, however, I am not on my way to the next level of holy grail parenting. I am stuck somewhere in between. So as I inch towards 40, I know that because I am a mom of a child with special needs, my 40s will look vastly different than many of your 40s.
I will not have the luxury of going to a park with my child and getting lost in my favorite smutty magazine while he plays independently.
I will not be able to drop my kid off for a play date.
I will not be able to let my child out of my sight.
I will not be peeing alone.
I will not be your average 40-something mom.
I am not telling you this for you to feel sad for me. Truly I am not. I am telling you this so the difference doesn’t spread us too far apart.
See at 40 we will both be parenting pre-teens, and as you will be dealing with your child getting cut from the baseball team, I will dealing with trying to get my child to eat a food group that isn’t pizza. Though our experiences may be vastly different, we will both be loving and caring for our children.
Each unique struggle will be hard in its respective ways. But I would like to give you a bit of advice for the next time you see a parent like me stuck between the two worlds of 30 and 40-something parenting.
Let’s revisit Dietrich’s public pool metaphor. We are all there enjoying the sun and the water- just like you. We are the fourth group of women at the pool, and sometimes we are the forgotten group. We have one foot in the 30-something world of parenting and one foot in the 40-something world of parenting. We have a child who still needs us to ensure they are safe, however, they don’t need us for every single thing. We will look a little out of place as we wade knee-deep in the swimming pool. We will look anxious as we are praying that a meltdown doesn’t occur. We will look tired and drained.
Please know this about moms of children with special needs:
We are stuck somewhere in between the 30-somethings and the 40-somethings.
Sometimes we feel that we don’t belong in any parenting group.
We are envious of you and your freedom.
We do feel alone.
From time to time, we do need the kindness of a stranger.
So dear 40-something mom,
Please look up from your favorite smutty magazine, and join me in the knee-deep water for a couple of minutes.
Don’t judge me for not letting go of my son.
Have a conversation with me that doesn’t include Daniel Tiger.
Don’t stare at my child and his behaviors that don’t match the size of his body.
And maybe give me a break for a second so I can go pee in peace.
Let me know that you see me, that you know this fourth category of moms exists. The ones that are stuck somewhere in between.