“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
My 6 year old daughter has food allergies. A lot of them. She is allergic to peanuts, eggs, strawberries, gluten, sesame, and JUST grew out of her dairy allergy. (I feel like I’m even missing something). I always say, it could be worse. She is healthy and thriving and we make it work. I try my best to make her feel included. A few weeks ago, she went to a birthday party. She decided last minute that she wanted to go and I realized that I didn’t have “her” pizza in the house. I usually cook the pizza first and send it along in a separate bag. I had a friend bring her to the party so I could run to the store, buy the pizza, go home and cook it, and then bring it to the party. There was traffic, lines at the store, (yada yada yada) and I got to the party at 5:25. The party ended at 5:30. The baby screamed the whole way there. I was high anxiety. My daughter got in the car and was upset with me. I don’t blame her. She had to sit at the table while everyone ate with no pizza or dessert. But, if she could have seen me running through the store. If she could have seen me nursing the baby while the pizza was cooking. If she could have seen how hard I tried, in the pouring rain, she wouldn’t have been upset with me. I burst into tears. I tried. So. Hard for her. I always try so hard for her. I don’t want her to feel different. I want her to belong…
With that said, how hard is it, for me, to teach her how to accept this?!
I am never that mom that makes a big deal about her daughter with food allergies. I silently pack a snack. I silently tell her not to eat anything unless it is approved by me. I silently bring a bag to every party, every gathering, every dinner out, every weekend away, and every single thing that involves food. Every single thing. It’s a lot. I decline birthday parties at the ice cream place, at the chocolate factory, baking cookies, etc. There are some things I just don’t want her to have to deal with.
More than this, I have to teach my daughter that it is ok to be different. I have to let her be authentic and imperfect. I have to teach her that everyone has “something” that they have to deal with. This is her thing and she accepts it. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t get sad. I look at her face when she looks at the cake at the birthday party and I DIE, literally. I can cry for days thinking of this.
But I try to teach her that we eat to stay alive but it is family that fills us up. And I got her back!!!! If she doesn’t want me to eat a piece of cake when celebrating someone’s birthday, I won’t. If she wants a bagel on bagel day at school, I got her back. If she wants a cupcake at the party, I got her back.
To me, this is a big concept to deal with at 6. The sense of belonging. Self-acceptance.
It is also a big concept for us.
The start of the school year was tricky for me. I tried to lay low because I was letting things get to me. It took a long time for me to pinpoint what exactly was going on with me. I started to let things, opinions, and people, seep into my brain and change how I felt. I started to question my decisions and focus on the wrong things. I couldn’t find my groove. I started to feel inauthentic. I was having a hard time accepting myself.
I took cues from my 6 year old. I love her because she is truly herself. Sometimes I feel like I try to change her and make her friendlier, less shy, more this or that. I might try to overcompensate for the allergies; for the differences. But then I realize that we should all be so lucky to be able to be free to be ourselves. What a concept?! . I love when a new friend of my daughter “gets” my daughter, truly. I think to myself, “Ok, they will be friends.” With my oldest, there is more than meets the eye. I love when a friend is concerned for her food allergies. When the mom says, “my daughter wants to make sure that your daughter can eat this.” I love when other people have her back. I get humbled to the core.
Acceptance comes when we stop trying so hard. When we stop trying to be “everything,” I think that is exactly when we become “everything.” It is easy to get wrapped up in the wrong things. If I have to change myself to belong, then I don’t want to belong. This is what I have to remind myself to teach my daughter. Accept yourself. Others will accept you when you are truly yourself. People who love you, will love you regardless of what you can or can’t eat.
I love people who “get” me too. Because let us face the truth, this isn’t just about our kids. It never was and never will be. This is about all of us. We all want to belong. We want our children to belong. So let us belong by being our true, authentic, imperfect self. I bolded the word imperfect because I don’t think we can relate to one another unless we show our imperfections.
And whatever you think may stand in your way, is actually something that opens up your life, because it makes you who you are. So I think we have to embrace it, whatever it is. Being imperfect, is actually what perfect truly defines.
~Noreen Heffernan,Writer, MA in Public and Corporate Communications, Certified in PR Writer, Growing Ladies.