Let’s talk some real talk. Let’s talk about how the fear of missing out, or FOMO, relates to parents of special needs children. (It also relates to all parents, and to people in general, but since this is, after all, my blog, I’ll narrow the focus.)
While the acronym “FOMO” has come into vogue recently, and is sometimes associated with excessive social media use, the fear itself is nothing new. FOMO is defined as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”.
Psychologically, FOMO is a complex phenomenon. Like all fears, most of us have it to some degree, and it can vary from one area to another. Like all fears, if left unexplored or unchecked, a high degree of FOMO can diminish a person’s quality of life.
So, let’s talk about feelings that I’m sure all parents and caregivers of special needs children share, but rarely if ever admit to anyone, perhaps not even to themselves.
Looking back at the years when I was raising my children, I must now admit that I had FOMO, except I didn’t know it at the time. But I frequently felt a vague, nagging impression that as a mother of a child with severe special needs, I was missing out on experiences that other mothers enjoyed. And that as a family, my family was missing out on experiences that other families enjoyed.
Did other families experience, well … more?
Specifically, I sensed that other families experienced more harmony, good times, pleasant moments, and shared laughter. And especially, that it was just easier for them to navigate through daily living than it was for mine. That’s not to say that we never had these positive experiences, I just thought that other families had them MORE.
It wasn’t jealousy or envy, really. I was genuinely happy for other families that seemed to be enjoying more harmony. (It’s a key point to remember that these were only my perceptions.) I didn’t wish difficulty for anyone; it was more a sense of sadness for my own family—a sadness that at times went as deep as grief.
The bottom line: I didn’t want us to miss out!
And so, I sometimes pushed our family into activities that, deep down, I knew wouldn’t work well.
For example, one time I took my young children to a neighborhood Halloween party, even though my daughter was terrified of scary Halloween costumes. To her, scary was defined as any costume that wasn’t a princess costume. Did we come away with the memories of a fun party that I was hoping for? Heck no, we all just remember Gracie having fits because she was terrified.
Do parents of special needs children miss experiences that other parents have? Of course we do.
We also have beautiful experiences that others do not.
These may be of a quieter, more fleeting nature, comprised of simple moments rather than major events worthy of Facebook posts. But they are nonetheless real and to be treasured.
For a classic reminder regarding acceptance, read or become reacquainted with Emily Perl Kingsley’s beautifully written “Welcome to Holland.”
Let’s more deeply explore the idea of FOMO
There are 7.5 billion souls on this planet, each having a unique life experience. I believe that each of us is here for the same reason—to learn and to grow in our own individual way—and that we achieve this in large part through life’s circumstances. In other words, we don’t become parents and caregivers of special needs children by accident. I believe it is part of a preordained plan, based on Divine love and wisdom that we can scarcely begin to fathom.
Whether or not you share this belief, we can surely agree that your experience is unique. Just as other people cannot experience or understand everything that you know and do so well, you cannot know and experience everything about others’ lives. It’s impossible. Comparison sets us up for an attitude of lack, of not having enough, or of not having good enough. It can cause unnecessary distress and discomfort in the life we have been gifted.
People in our community, extended family, or friends, may do things that seem exciting to us—and perhaps those things are out of our reach. But remember, their life probably isn’t as cool to them as it may seem to you. Also remember that few of them widely share their own quiet failures or disappointments.
Tampering down FOMO
Rather than comparing ourselves to other people, or comparing our families to other families, I suggest that we consciously try to step more into our own power. We can choose to appreciate what we have, and to relish the small, quiet achievements. This shift in perspective offers us more moments of peace and joy. Our families benefit as well, as the attitude ripples out to everyone.
This won’t happen overnight; it’s a process. But each baby step moves us forward and, over time, little steps add up to big gains.
You are living your life. Nobody else has the benefits of your life; only you do. Accept. Enjoy. Be grateful for all of it—the good, the ugly, and the indifferent. Let go of FOMO, and focus on living YOUR very best life.