Rhys and I often shake our heads when we think about our pre-child expectations for our future children. Like most soon-to-be-parents we wondered about what our child was going to do and who they were going to be. We learnt very quickly that one of the problems with our expectations is that we often expect our children to be different from who they are.
From the moment he was born, we knew our son was going to think outside the box. His development was ahead of what was expected – he rolled the day he turned three months, crawled at five months and walked before he was one. We were the family at coffee group with the kid climbing trees all the time, the kid that others warned their child to watch out for. There were a couple of times when he was at kindy where I wondered if what he was doing was “normal”. We started noticing that he went through phases where he was fixated on one thing – he used to wear his Spiderman suit every day and I would have to peel it off him at night to wash it ready for the next day. I never really understood what was going on or what we were doing “wrong”.
The wheels really fell off when he was in year three at school and we quickly realised there was something more happening for him. Not long after we discovered our eldest daughter had dyslexia with underlying auditory and sensory processing disorders. We went from being a “normal” family to one with two children with neuro-diversities. Accepting the as-is of our situation is not easy. I’m human after all, with different emotions that pop up throughout the day – frustration, sadness, guilt, questions of why me?, what can I do about this? … the list goes on. I’ve learned that resisting the way it is for us has proven to be a waste of vital energy that can be better put towards getting through the day. If you too are in this place I just want to say I get it! I hear you and the frustrations you speak of, I see you and all the time and effort you put into meeting the needs of your child(ren). I hold space for you as you mutter under your breath “it’s all too hard today”.
So how do you move forward into a place of acceptance and thriving as a family when your child isn’t what you were expecting?
1. Take care of yourself
You’ll know if you’ve been reading my blogs and following me on Facebook for a while that self-care is pretty high up on my list of priorities. By taking care of yourself you are in a much stronger position to be able to help your family. Suzi Lula is a spiritual coach, speaker, author and mentor who challenges us to think differently around self-care. I recently interviewed Suzi and she shared some of her tips for finding a self-care practice that works for you. As Suzi says in that interview, self-care is not only ok, it’s essential to take care of ourselves because by taking care of ourselves we have so much more to give to our children. And for parents with children with extra needs it’s even more important that we have a full, overflowing tank. You can watch my interview with Suzi here on my website or at www.heartcentredparenting.com/blog/2018/7/13/interview-with-suzi-lula
It’s so important to take care of our own needs and recognise our emotions. When the kids were first diagnosed Rhys and I felt a huge sense of shame and guilt. We questioned whether we had done something to cause it. We felt terrible that we didn’t realise sooner. We wallowed in self-pity for a little bit. It’s important not to supress what you’re feeling – don’t hide from your emotions or numb them. Let them be felt. Yes, it hurts but it’s worth it to go through your emotions and feelings and come out the other side no longer blaming and shaming yourself for things you can’t change. There are a lot of great resources that can help you work through the shame mindset and reframe it in a different way. Two resources I found really useful are Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly by best-selling author and professor Brene Brown I also really found peace through my mindfulness process. You can find out more about this process on my website at www.heartcentredparenting.com/meditation
I am forever thankful for my conscious parenting journey. Without it I think I’d be a shell of myself.
2. Dealing with the judgment
I know what it’s like to be judged because your child doesn’t conform to “the norm”. It can often be the comments made by those closest to us, people who are privy to the inner workings of our family, that hurt the most. And to them, their comments may be harmless or intended to be helpful, but their words can cut deep.
After our son’s diagnosis, we had a lot of comments said to us or behind our backs. I had to learn ways to understand how others were seeing it, to learn how to not take it personally. For example, one time was at a friend’s place for dinner with a group of mums. I shared a story about how our son had become quite violent against his sisters. One of the mums said, “you told him he can’t do that, right?” I felt really hurt. she knew our family well, had spent a lot of time in our home and with us and knew the practices we had in place… It was the first time I realised she was actually judging me, that she didn’t understand what it meant to have a child like ours and was resisting learning more about it...things really shifted in our relationship after that. I did a lot of internal, painful work to get to the realisation that I no longer wanted to surround myself with people who didn’t support me, who didn’t help hold me up or lift me higher, it was the beginning of aligning myself with like-minded people who build others up and hold space for each other. It’s hard enough having a child with extra needs without having people in your world, who aren’t open-minded or compassionate towards you.
Our parenting style was often called into question with some family members suggesting that the way we were raising our son was causing the issues. People often compared our son to our youngest, neuro-typical daughter. We regularly got comments like “she’s such a good girl, so sweet”, implying by omission that he wasn’t. When our son was diagnosed it took a few family members a long time to understand that it wasn’t something we were doing that was causing his behaviour but that we all needed to support him and put in place some structures to get by. That instead of getting tougher with him, we need to offer him support in getting his needs met.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve had is that I’m not responsible for who my child will become. I am responsible for connection, for love and supporting their growth. That their success and perceived failures don’t define me.
3. Celebrate what your child has to offer
Your child is going to be who they’re going to be, no matter what you’re doing. Sure, you can support them and be alongside them for the journey but you can’t change the way they’re going to show up in the world. Let's look at the saying - “start looking at life as a glass half full”, I recently heard a Buddhist view on this saying… "the glass is neither half full or half empty, it is always full, ½ full of water and ½ full of air"… we need to continually adjust our mindset on things and find the lessons in the challenges. Yes, your child isn’t who you were expecting them to be, so rather than fighting it start looking for the benefits they bring, the unique way they look at the world, the ways they make a positive difference in your life. I guarantee you’ll soon realise that your child can teach you lessons that will make your relationship with them and others richer and deeper.
Try this exercise this week - in a journal write down each day, the things you appreciate and acknowledge as beautiful in your child(ren), write down what you’re grateful for, having them as your child… you will soon start to see the glorious ways they show up in the world…
For example Our middle daughter is here to teach me to slow down and enjoy each moment. She is a procrastinator and I have learned to put less into our day, give more notice before things need to happen and to breath more.
Our son is here to show me that not everyone shows love and emotion in words, that not everyone understands emotions and some need support to see another person’s views on things. He has opened me up to view the world very differently to how I did before he graced the Earth. I have huge empathy for others now, for how they see things and have had to learn that my way is not necessarily the only way or the right way.
And our youngest daughter is here to remind me of the joy and beauty of the world, she shows me how each moment is a new one and how to see the wonder of what is around me.
One of the greatest gifts I can give my children is the right to be authentically themselves because I’m not trying to make them anything other than who they truly are.
I’d love to help you start your journey to move past the place of guilt and shame that your child isn’t what you were expecting. You can find out more about how I can work with you on my website
Sending you love on your parenting journey,