I have an adult son with special needs and it’s sometimes a struggle to organize our complicated lives and communicate needs and concerns to the many people involved in my son’s care. That’s when I use lists — best-of lists, top 10 lists, checklists in many forms. It calms me to have something that I can keep and share. They are powerful tools for organizing and motivating and teaching. I spend a ton of time assembling, refining and disseminating these lists and it can be REALLY frustrating when they don’t get read or used. It is then that I fall back on another really great list, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. Just four, a concise list of things that, when put into practice, can help to bring peace and happiness to your life. Easy, right? Let’s break it down.
Be impeccable with your word: Say what you mean, mean what you say. Your words are VERY powerful. When speaking to your child or a professional who supports your family, your words make a difference. Speak with kindness and integrity. Most importantly, don’t use your words to speak against yourself or gossip about others. Set an example with your words, spoken, written, tweeted, snapped and those self-critical words in your head.
Don’t take anything personally: Every day there are opportunities to put this agreement into action. You can avoid suffering and anger when you remind yourself that nothing that other people do is because of you. They are in their own reality; they rarely are thinking of you. Their actions are not intended to anger or harm you and they probably haven’t considered you at all. That person who cut you off driving, who was distracted or inconsiderate in your interaction, is probably not thinking of you at all. Others’ opinions and actions are NOT about you. Free yourself from them. This is particularly challenging in our culture that seems to seek people’s opinion and judgment on everything instantaneously.
Don’t make assumptions: This agreement is closely tied to the two above. Communicate to express what you really want or need. Asking the questions necessary to clarify and understand will eliminate most misunderstandings and drama.
Always do your best: When I first read this, I went into defensive mode. “I’m tired, stressed, overwhelmed in trying to manage the life of my child with special needs. I can’t possibly do MY BEST at all times!” But looking deeper, this Agreement asks us to do our best at the time. We need to acknowledge that our “best” can change from moment to moment and will vary with states of health or attention or exhaustion. Just do your best at the time and avoid second-guessing and judging yourself.
This is a pretty short list as lists go, but it I have found it a source of great strength and also of great calm in the midst of this crazy, hectic life. The Four Agreements are posted front and center on my refrigerator to remind me every day.
Joanna Jaeger is the mother of two young adults, one with autism, both with Type 1 diabetes. All along her journey, Joanna has found ways to connect with other families both seeking and providing support. She has been a long-time volunteer with Parents Helping Parents in Santa Clara, CA, providing help to families of children with a wide range of special needs as a mentor parent, advocate, fundraiser and Board member. She is passionate about food, travel, and baseball.
This article appears in Digging Deep: A Journal for Young People Facing Health Challenges