Perception vs Reality – Part One

I heard this term in college and honestly, I kind of thought it was a no brainer. Reality is just that, real. It seemed obvious to me that real is real and perception was how I might see things from my own little tunnel of vision, without taking into account collateral events, someone else’s point of view, or perspective. Seems simple, right?

As a 20 something, I heard the term Perception IS Reality which was an indication that opinions, based on a particular person’s experiences and sensory input actually became FACT for that person. It was a subtle shift in the concept that we were less inclined to look at things from another’s point of view or even try to put on their shoes and take them for a power walk.

In the 25 plus years since, I have not really given it much thought, other than a mild awareness that parenting is a constant battle between your own reality and how other people react to you or your children based on the little blip of a moment that they happen to witness.

As an example, when my second child was about two and a half, we were out running some errands and to her credit, it had been a long afternoon, and she was tired. She was also an exceptional escape artist. On our outing, she would not stay sitting down in her stroller. She would wriggle out of the seat belt, stand up, tumble out, grab things off the shelves, and throw her sippy cup all while leaving a trail of crushed goldfish crackers like a toddler distress signal. She had been a handful like this for over an hour. She had fallen out of the stroller twice, and for me it became a matter of safety. I needed to finish up, and get her home as soon as possible; but with every passing moment, the end of this afternoon seemed on a very distant horizon. 

After the third time she stood up in the stroller, I plopped her back down, put on the voice of no doubt, tightened that strap up over her collar bone and when she reached for the buckle again, I three-finger smacked her little hand and said, “NO!” I had reasoned, pleaded, begged, coerced, negotiated, and bribed her for the last two hours. That was my reality.

At that moment, a fellow shopper gasped, tsk’d, and heel-turned abruptly away with contempt at the abomination of me aggressively disciplining my child. The woman’s perception didn’t allow her to see that I was not being ‘mean’ or aggressive because I was angry, but because we needed to get out of this situation together and I needed her to be safe. Sometimes, drastic times…

I felt the shame of being judged unfairly wash over me. I remembered that this woman’s perception of me was her reality. She did not see the morning spent at the park, the carefully packed bag of snacks, juice, favorite toy and extra clothes that I prepared for our outing. She did not see that my child could actually dislocate her own shoulder in order to escape the confines of a carseat strap, seat belt or stroller harness. She was not part of our evenings spent reading books or movie nights. She did not know that I had 2 hours to shop for all of the groceries for the week so that I could make meals for my family. Her perception was her reality. It kind of stung.

Obviously, this two minute moment in my parenting journey left an impression on me because 22 years later, I still remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the pain of being judged, the disappointment of not being able to enjoy an outing with my daughter, and the fear of her getting injured or hurt because her own reality was that of a hungry, tired toddler and there seemed no stopping her single-minded willfulness. Interestingly, now that she is an adult, her willfulness is one of the traits I admire most about her. When she sets her mind on a goal, she makes a plan and sees it through, but I digress.

I wanted to share this parenting story because I think most of us have been there. The benign story I share today about my typically developing child in many ways prepared me for the roller coaster of emotions and upset that I would experience as a caregiver to my special needs son, but also as an educator, advocate and mentor for other families like mine.

I will share the rest of this post next week, but in the meantime:

Do you ever feel judged by others whom you feel have no idea what your reality is?

If so, how do you react?

I’d love for you to share your own experiences, or use this as a journal prompt to express your thoughts, experiences and feelings.

Xoxo -A

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