Monday, July 29, 2013

Expecting Happily Ever Afters

Once upon a time life was good, then there were bumps along the way that were terrible and horrible and caused great misery, but in the end led to only good things, and they lived happily ever after. And so the fairy tale goes.

Once upon a time a child was born and that child's parents had great expectations for that child. A good life, college, going on to become a doctor or lawyer or something greater that what their parents had accomplished - all goodness and joy and very few bumps along the way - all leading up to a happily ever after. And so the story usually goes.

Once upon a time a child was born and that child's parents were excited to see what that child's passions would be and where life would take that child. The parents knew the road through life wouldn't be smooth for this child, so nurtured in the child a sense of worth, a sense of humor, and a resilient spirit to help along the way. This is the story in which I believe.

I never had any, or at least not many. Expectations for my kids, that is. I never expected my children to be a certain way or do specific things or become anything in particular. I never had a vision of when-he-grows-up-he's-going-to-be. I've never uttered why-can't-you-act-more-like or I-wish-you-could-be-more-like . Perfect children were not on my radar. For that matter, normal children were not on my radar. How could they be, with the not-so-normal and definitely-not-perfect parents they received?

Reading a lot of parenting type blogs lately, including blogs by parents of kids on the spectrum and kids diagnosed with chronic illness, a common theme seems to be a sense of loss upon diagnosis - even that their child is now somehow completely different from the child they'd birthed or adopted. There are a lot of he-was-supposed-to-be's or she-should-have-been's. The parents' hopes dashed, dreams unrealized. It must be heart-breaking for the parents, who love their children so enormously and wish such great things for them. 

My expectations of all my children - my hopes and dreams for them - have never been very specific. I hope they live lives full of joy and laughter and fulfillment, following their passions, feeding their spirits, adding light to the world and meeting life's obstacles with faith and hope. I expect that each of these things will look different for each child - and that each child will have their challenges along the way. Perhaps it's this perspective that has served me well through various diagnoses my children have received.

I have two children with Aspergers - our oldest son, age 14, and our youngest son, age 7. My middle son has clinical depression and my eldest daughter has joint issues. Their diagnoses didn't make me look at them any differently. Understand them better, yes - but love or value them any differently, not at all. They are the same kids I birthed. The same kids I've raised for the past however-many years. Kids with the same futures ahead of them that they had  before they were born. Whatever they choose to do in life is good with me. 

Can we as a society stop putting greater value on being perfect, on higher paying jobs and futures full of wealth, and realize that the guy who drives the garbage truck is just as valuable in someone's life as the doctor who gave the autism diagnosis or the mom who pours her heart into her kids and into changing the world? (If you haven't already, head over to Chrissy Kelly's world changing blog, Life with Greyson and Parker, and meet her beautiful family and their friend Frank.) 

Perhaps if parents who want the best for their children saw the best as whatever is going to bring joy and fulfillment to the child's life, the world would be a less stressful place for both the parent and the child. Perhaps if parents would wait with excitement to see what our children become, and support them in their dreams along the way, our children's lives would be easier. 
   

So how do happily-ever-afters happen? They come with perspective; with understanding; with love; without expectations that happily-ever-afters come only with good things. They happen with mistakes and lessons learned; with triumphs over hardships. They come with giving of ourselves.

Happily-ever-afters come to those who can find joy amidst the chaos, who can see grace through anguish, who can embrace forgiveness and live love. To those who transform doubts into successes and use stumbling blocks as stepping stones. 

To give our kids the opportunity for happily-ever-afters, we need to first nurture in them love, joy, forgiveness, grace.

Once upon a time, I grew up, had a nervous breakdown, dropped out of college, felt like a complete failure, worked at various mind-numbing jobs, got married, grew up a little more, had children, and became what I'd wanted to be my entire life - a mother, a caregiver, a volunteer, a homeschool teacher - and something I didn't plan so much on - disabled. Not what my parents had envisioned for me - and for years I felt like I'd still failed because I didn't meet what I perceived as their expectations. Yet I came out on the other side fulfilled, and with a perspective on life that has served me well. Exactly where I need to be, want to be, and am supposed to be - just not where I or anyone else expected.

And I live joyfully ever after.

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