Last month, I had two unique experiences where I was surrounded by people walking in my shoes. The first was a regional CdLS gathering for families sharing the common experience of raising a child/adult with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. The second was less than a week later at the national American Christian Fiction Writers Conference where hundreds of writers, editors, agents, and other publishing people gathered to learn, network, and celebrate accomplishments.
In both places, I walked in knowing next to nobody, but within minutes had found new friendships with people who understood. Other mothers knew all about stares from strangers, comparisons with peers, and behavioral challenges so we could celebrate the things other families took for granted. Other writers didn’t question how long it really takes to write a book or how difficult it is to capture the attention of an editor or agent. And writers don’t raise eyebrows when others say their fictional characters talked to them.
I fully believe in the power of finding like-minded friendships because they unleash the potential for amazing growth. Instead of spending time trying to explain my situation and the dynamics others don’t comprehend, I can dive right in to the heart of the problem and brainstorm a solution. Or instead of hiding behind a façade because explaining takes too much time and hasn’t always resulted in compassion in the past, I can be vulnerable and real with those who understand even what I’m not saying because they’ve been there.
Was my child screaming and throwing herself onto the ground? Other preschool parents might criticize my parenting skills while older folks commented “in my day, children knew how to behave” and offer their own solution. Parents in my shoes knew that autistic tendencies made it hard for my daughter to deal with or communicate her emotions … and helped diagnose the trigger as acid reflux pain. That’s why I’m Facebook friends with and in several online groups with other CdLS parents as well as part of other special needs parent groups. They know about chronic grief and ongoing stress.
Was I still working on that same story? Others wondered how long it took to write a book and assumed it was easy to find someone to publish it. Others assume that writers make six-figure advances and lounge around in peaceful retreats where their only task is to write. Writers know that writing requires rewriting, that many compete for a few slots, that most still juggle family and a day job, and that authors today are also marketers. So when I get rejections, get stuck on a plot point, or have a question about social media, I know who to ask. That’s why I’m part of a local writing group and connect online with other writers and my critique partner.
Finding those precious like-minded friendships allows me to get the answers and help I need in the shortest amount of time. They also provide the chance to encourage others with the comfort and wisdom I have received through this journey. After all, friendship is a two-way street.
What about you? Who are you growing with? Who are you accountable to? Where do you go to find people in your shoes?