Being a parent of four children and three stepchildren and being a coach to many parents, I have noticed something really interesting, and it begs the question: Why do parents work so hard for their children for no pay and little appreciation? I am speaking of parents of children who are different (e.g. gifted or talented) and/or challenged (e.g. disabled, learning challenged or emotionally distraught) in some way. And when I say “work hard,” I mean sleepless nights, constant worry, endless appointments that often end up fruitless, tireless searches, and countless hours of doing homework with a child who is exhausted, frustrated and still trying to get through school.

In fact, most of the parents I work with tend to have many adversaries despite their seemingly selfless quest to help their child find their way. They have partners who do not support them financially, emotionally or physically. They have relatives that condemn their efforts. They often hear, “Just leave the kid alone, they will be fine.” Some parents tell me they are constantly battling the schools to get even minimal accommodations for their children for which they are legally entitled. These parents even fear they are turning into the dreaded twenty-first century helicopter parent, when, in reality, they are saviors to their children.

Why would someone do this? I have learned that people tend to do things for a reason. They are getting something from their actions. Parenting a child with challenges of any kind is exhausting and frustrating. It drains you emotionally and financially. I do not often hear that these children suddenly make radical changes, and, as if life were a fairy tale, “live happily ever after.” So, why do these parents work so hard?

There are typically two answers. One answer is the one you want to hear, the other isn’t.

The first answer is that these parents are wise, grounded people who can give of themselves selflessly. They understand the needs of their child, and despite the physical, emotional and financial toll the situation has created, they have few needs themselves and are unimpacted by their children and their extraordinary needs. They give love unconditionally and never resent the life they have been given.

Yeah. Well, I do not know any of these people.

The second answer is that these parents are human with all the insecurities and fears that tend to come along with being human.

Some parents fear the judgment of others. They worry they will be viewed as bad parents or even worse, bad people, if they do not give themselves away in the name of a good cause. In this case, the cause happens to be their child or children. It is one of the best ways to cover up your own insecurity and shame ever! How could anyone suspect that your tireless diligence in the name of your child is really your way to try to feel better about your own self-perceived shortcomings. No one could possibly fault you.

The problem is… you don’t feel better after giving yourself away. You end up angry, alone, frustrated, resentful, victimized, and your child is probably not much better off than they were before you went on the quest for the Holy Grail. It really is a quest by the way. And once you realize that the Grail lies within you, you will have your freedom. You will be free to give of yourself as I described in the first answer.

It is really hard to accept this. I know. I have been railing against it for over 40 years. My four challenging children were just a convenient way for me to try to heal age old wounds by externally validating myself through my efforts to “save” my children. Sadly, no one showed up to validate me. I got no raise, no glowing evaluation, not even a gold star on my chart. I worked my ass off for 19 years in the name of my children. No one said thank you. No pat on the back. And last I checked, my shame and low self esteem are still in tact.

Humans often keep using the same strategies over and over expecting different results. Fascinating. What we all must realize and accept is that the validation we seek, the healing we crave, can only be found within oneself. I need to validate myself. I can reward myself as much as I need and in exactly the manner in which I want it the most. To expect this of someone else or society is a setup for disappointment. I am the only one that can heal my wounds because, really, I am the only one who truly understands these wounds and their origins.

When I see a parent drained and war-torn from carrying the life of a child that they were never meant to carry, I encourage them to put that life down and focus on their own life. No parent was ever meant to carry their child forever. Not only are we disempowering our child, we are giving ourselves away to the point of illness, emotional breakdown and ruined families. Parents who work on their own issues are modeling some of the greatest lessons in life for their children.

I must be personally responsible for myself. Seeking help is a good thing. Loving myself is crucial to living a fulfilled life. When I love myself, I will feel whole and energized. I will then be available for my extraordinary children and their needs in a healthier way. I can wisely choose what actions to take on behalf of my child and pass on those that do not resonate with me. I can become more discerning when deciding what doctors and treatments to pursue instead of running blindly after every one that I discover.

I can come from love instead of fear and need. The children will sense the shift in me and miraculous things will occur. They will start to carry more and more of their own life in the ways they are able. I will feel lighter.