I am not political. Despite having studied economics in school and even international politics at Cambridge for 6 months, I avoid participating in politics. However, given our recent presidential race, it is impossible not to take a glance every now and then at what seems to be more reality TV show fodder than sophisticated politics. So, while some people have decided who they will vote for, I often hear that people don’t want to vote for either candidate. While voting is an important right, what happens when your choices are not optimal? This happens in life, too.
We often are faced with choosing the lesser of two evils instead of having a clear preference. No group of people can relate to this more than parents of children with challenges (whether it be physical, cognitive, or emotional). There is rarely a great fit for these children anywhere.
I am currently struggling with how to best help my 19 year old son. None of the options available to us seem like obvious winners. In fact, when I consider them individually, I melt into a puddle and cry. How can I possibly choose from these options? Other than starting my own university designed specifically for the needs of my son in mind (which I have considered and then realized that was absolutely ridiculous given I don’t even have time to shower most days), I have no exciting choices.
So, what happens in life when the choices we must face are unpleasant. We often can choose to do nothing. In the case of the election, many people may choose not to vote because they morally cannot support either candidate.
In the case of my son, it would be easy to let him hide in my house where I can keep an eye on his medical condition. He would never have to suffer unpleasant experiences or have to deal with his chronic pain and miserable symptoms on his own. I could just continue to take care of him.
My husband, Ian, often says, “It is OK to care for someone, but it is typically not OK to take care of someone.” What he is saying is essentially that when we take care of someone, we are taking their power away. We are telling that person they cannot be OK on their own. They need us. Eventually, when someone is taken care of far past infancy, they step into the land of learned helplessness. Psychologically, learned helplessness is incredibly difficult to undo.
Despite my son’s amazing intellect, incredible wit, and timeless wisdom, he believes he cannot live without me. It would be a mistake to continue down this path with him because he needs to create a life of his own. Living in my house for the rest of his life would only create a withered shell of a human being. He would experience no joy, no pain, no sense of accomplishment, and learn nothing of what’s out there in the real world. He would miss out on the amazing journey of life.
So, together, my son and I need to choose something different for him. He needs to take a step forward in any direction. It does not matter if he fails. All the matters is that he keep moving forward. We continually ask ourselves, “What did we learn from this experience?” We allow that learning to inform the next choice.
Remember, the only mistake we can make is to stop moving forward out of fear. So, when you go to the polls to vote (or not) remember that change is sometimes unpleasant. Our political system must change, and maybe, just maybe, this crazy election will drive a long overdue shift in our political system so we never find ourselves in the position of having to choose from the lesser of two evils again.
As I have grown in wisdom, I have learned that while it was easier for me to keep my son safe while he grew up, I did miss some opportunities to allow him to skin his knees and learn he would be OK no matter what. If I had been wiser and encouraged his independence and allowed him to experience the naturally occurring consequences of his challenges, he might have found his path to independence sooner. I have been more successful with my youngest who suffers from brain damage. I have allowed her to fail intentionally and amazingly the system around her shifted to better meet her needs, so she could feel independent and successful. She also learned that failure was not so scary.
I still do not know who to vote for even though I will vote, and my son is struggling to decide his next step. This is all OK, because both my son and I know we must move forward. Change is coming even though it may be unpleasant, at least for a while. Thank goodness!