Spring has sprung, and that means lots of park dates with the kids. Playground conversations amongst the parents can be riveting. Yesterday’s topic of discussion was dishwashers. Some people have them. Some do not. Two of the non-dishwasher moms were lamenting this missing appliance
“Yes,” I chimed in, “That would be so hard not to have a dishwasher.”
“Well, I mean, it’s not that bad,” one of them responded in defense, “You just get used to it after awhile.”
“Yep,” piped in the other mom, “People lived for many many years without the luxury of dishwashers. It’s really not a big deal.”
“True,” I agreed, changing my stance like a crafty politician, “It would probably force me to stay on top of my dishes if I did not have one.”
“As if!” the other woman retorted “My sink is constantly piled high with dirty dishes!”
“Totally!” agreed the other mom, “It’s nearly impossible to stay on top of! It’s so annoying.”
It was at this point that I decided to keep my dishwasher-owning mouth shut. Nothing short of throwing my dishwasher out the kitchen window was going to make my perspective on this subject valid. Perhaps toaster ovens would be the next topic of conversation. Mine had caught on fire years ago, and never been replaced. I could legitimately participate in a conversation about that missing kitchen appliance.
On the walk home from the park, I chuckled to myself about this silly discussion. Yet there was something about it that felt familiar to me. It reminded me of so many discussions I’ve had with others about my eyesight.
“it must be so hard not being able to drive your kids places on your own,” one friend admonished when the topic came up.
“Oh, it’s really not a huge deal to me,” I retorted, “Between my husband and my parents, all the driving is taken care of. Plus, I would hate the hassle of a second car payment, insurance, and all ot the headaches of driving.”
The words I told her were true to some degree, but I was using them to downplay a major struggle in my life. Attempting to discuss this struggle with someone who has no idea what it feels like to have that major loss of independence felt irritating. I did not want to agree with her statement about how difficult it must be not to drive.
On a different day, “positive polly” tried to make light of my situation, saying “You are SO LUCKY that your husband does all of the driving. You really don’t know how much of a hassle you are missing.” I wanted to tell polly, “I’d like to see how lucky you would feel if you had to rely on other people to drive you and your children around. You really don’t know how much of a hassle YOU are missing.” But instead, I casually nodded my head and promptly changed the subject.
If someone hasn’t walked in my shoes, it can be frustrating to hear their opinion about how difficult or easy my situation appears from their perspective. Just as a parent whose child is throwing a wild tantrum does not want to hear, “Oh that must be so hard. I wouldn’t know because my child does not do that sort of thing. But it must be very challenging.” That same exasperated parent does not want to hear, “I don’t let kicking and screaming bother me. Tantrums are a breeze!”
No, a parent who is in the midst of their child’s meltdown wants to hear, “I’ve been where you are.” or a simple, “I know”.
This is not to say that we cannot confide in anyone that does not share our exact struggle. Sometimes simply listening can be a stronger form of support than attempting to commiserate.
When I listen to my friends who struggle with yo-yo dieting, or a spouse who travels constantly for work, or a strained relationship with their parents, I try my best to understand how this struggle affects them even though these are not struggles that I share.
I can imagine how I might feel if these were my struggles, but I don’t really have a clue what it feels like to not eat carbs for 3 months in order to lose 30 pounds only to gain 45 pounds in the following months.
Most people don’t want to hear that others view their problems as far worse or much easier than they think they are. They just want to be heard and feel a connection. I don’t have to personally have a husband who travels 6 days a week in order to empathize with someone who does. I understand the human emotion of feeling alone and overwhelmed, especially as a mom.
My friends and family may not have RP, but they can relate to feeling stuck and helpless at times. For every challenge in life, there is an underlying human emotion, and that’s what we’re empathizing with when we nod our heads and listen to each other’s various experiences.
So I guess I don’t have to wait for the toaster conversation to come up at the next park play date. I can, with great certainty, nod my head and tell my non-dishwasher friends that I can relate to feeling behind on housework. They haven’t seen my laundry room.