The Chair

Has an encounter with a stranger ever changed your life? I’ve got a story like that for you today.

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.

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  1. Kirsten Filian says:

    Thanks, Anne!
    I will be thinking of this over the weekend. My daughter has epilepsy also, so I, too, get it. But this has huge ramifications beyond my daughter. Thank you.

  2. Allison says:

    I read this and all I think is how I’m one of those chairs without extra support.
    Every so often, when I’m having a difficult time with my kids, I will text my ex for help and he’ll text back that I should buck up and be a parent. This from the parent that sees his children for 2-3 hours a week and says he loves his kids more than anything else in the world.
    My sister, who lives with us, wants to be loved and just ignores every rule I set into place: no soda for my daughter with ADHD – she sneaks her soda, no tv after school – my sister is the first one to turn on the tv.
    It is tough but I keep going and pray that someday my kids realize how I tried.

    • Sometimes the village of support is somewhere outside of the family. You need to find a tribe. Other people who get you and the things that are important to you. Our tribe includes many of our neighbours with children around the same age. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “I need a break, can I send my daughter to your place to play and for dinner?” It’s always a yes and the door always swings both ways. Reach out. Ask for help in other places. You may be surprised at who steps up 🙂

      • OMDG says:

        Finding this “tribe” of people outside your family is often near impossible. It’s nice that you’ve been able to make it work, but I often feel surrounded by people who completely lack the ability to see things from any position other than their own. You can usually tell those people from their helpful suggestions beginning with, “Why don’t you just….” It can lead to some frustrating interactions and makes you realize that in the end, we’re all actually mostly in this alone, and that rare person who gets it is just that: rare.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    This reminded me of a reading at my friend’s wedding which was about marriage being like holding up the roof of the house… sometimes one of you has to hold most of the weight, sometimes it’s even, but mainly you have to hold it together to keep it up. Much more eloquently of course!

    I’ve thought of that often, since I think it applies to the biggest things – serious illness, family crises, the newborn phase etc – but also the mundane. Sometimes one of you just has to hold up the roof by doing more dishes, or the extra errands, or whatever it is.

  4. Shannon says:

    I am fascinated by this. I absolutely agree with the idea of our family like a chair that needs the legs to stand. But the idea of applying this to difficult extended family relations on the holidays is really interesting. Like, what additional supports can we/should we be using to hold that chair up? Our faith, and how that reminds us to treat others, certainly. Wine, realistically. And children, who are a great distraction at holiday events. What else? I will be thinking about this all month.

  5. Suz Priestas says:

    Thank you for this beautiful symbolism. I found it very simple and deeply profound at the same time. Helpful to many, I am certain! ? ?

  6. Lynne Janssen Brooks says:

    I love a chair as a metaphor for real, long-lasting love. The seat is love. The back is trust. The legs are honesty, respect, commitment & intimacy. The arms are romance & humor. All the parts work together to comfortably & reliably support full-bodied love through many, many years.

  7. Trisha says:

    I noticed that too and was touched to see how she stayed true to her friend while knowing she could use the example for others. I also have a special needs child and loved the example. I have been working on legs to support the chair and never thought to view it like this!

  8. teguh imam says:

    I will be thinking about this throughout the end of the week. My girl has epilepsy additionally, so I, as well, get it. In any case, this has enormous repercussions past my girl. Much obliged to you.

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