I’ll spare you the longwinded details, but the gist is this. My friend has kids with a chronic medical condition, and she flew across the country last week, as she regularly does, to get the update on the latest and greatest ways to manage it. We’re not talking about something life-threatening—at least only very rarely, in the 21st century—but it comes with plenty of scary moments, and it’s definitely a hassle.
At these events, connecting with other parents—parents who are dealing with chronic conditions every day—is a big part of why she goes. It’s worth the time and money to meet, face-to-face, with other people who get it.
My friend always gets a lot out of these meetings, but on her recent trip, her biggest takeaway didn’t come from the official event, or someone who was there for it. Her aha moment came courtesy of a stranger at the hotel pool.
This parent was vacationing with her daughter; her daughter has epilepsy. She and my friend made an instant connection over what it’s like to be a parent who cares for a child with a chronic condition. And while their conditions are very different, the mothers got each other. You know what I mean.
Here’s where the “change” part comes in: this stranger (who, knowing my friend, didn’t feel like a stranger at all after two minutes or so) gave my friend a visual that she hasn’t stopped thinking about. That I haven’t stopped thinking about, since I heard it.
When her daughter was diagnosed, another parent who’d been there—who got it—told her to think of her family as a chair. Each member is one of the legs. A chair needs all the legs to be stable or it teeters and falls. Her young daughter, because of her epilepsy, didn’t have a stable leg to hold the seat in place.
But that doesn’t mean the chair is doomed. If someone can’t stabilize their leg on their own, the other family members can help them hold it in place. A little help, or a lot, depending. Sometimes, someone outside the family may need to come help hold those legs up. The chair won’t collapse if it gets the extra support it needs.
It’s not a perfect metaphor. I’m not sure exactly what it means for my family, yet. But have we shifted roles in the past, changed the way we chipped in, to keep the chair from wobbling? Sure. And we’ll do it again. And again and again.
We’re heading into the holidays, and many are freaked out—on the larger scale—of the unstable chair that is their extended family. That’s a tough situation with no easy answers. But I’m finding that thinking of the family as a wobbly chair? It helps.
I’d love to hear about your family metaphors and encounters with strangers in comments.