Managing Expectations to Foster Acceptance

Sarge & Me the weekend we met... Before marriage and children. Our expectations that day? Good times!

There’s this concept out here in special-needs-land that we parents have to mourn the loss of the typical child we were expecting before we can accept the child with special needs that we were gifted. Personally, I’m not sure I buy that! I didn’t mourn. I embraced instantaneously. And, I did so, I think, because so many horrible things were predicted and/or wrongly diagnosed for my babies in utero — none of which came to fruition, by the way. What I was gifted was soooooo much more than what I expected. And therein lies the difference. It’s tough when reality falls short of expectations. The trick is not trying to change reality but in rethinking our expectations. 

Here’s my take. Maybe we’re not mourning the loss of some imaginary “typical” child that was mistakenly replaced with this somehow less-than-perfect (in some people’s eyes) booby-prize version of the child we thought we were going to get. Maybe we’re just coming to terms with our own erroneous expectations. I, for one, entered parenthood with my eyes wide open and my expectations limited to, “I’m having a baby.” And even I got sideswiped!

The first go-around, that’s exactly what I got. She’s 9 now and “gifted” and a load of work because regular-ol’ homework is too boring but she still has to do it. Her attention span is questionable and she can be passively oppositional, specifically when it comes to academics. She’s also a beautiful child with an amazingly empathic heart, a passionate animal- and nature-lover with incredible artistic talent and a knack for telling stories. That’s my “typical” child. 

The second go-around I expected a baby, again! And I got identical twins who happened to have been born with Down syndrome. They’re funny and loving and live to wrestle and watch movies. My Little Man, future engineer,  has to figure everything out and My Big Man is a very theatrical Romeo. Being 100% honest, I never blinked an eye about the Down syndrome but the identical twin thing just blows my mind… STILL… EVERY DAY (and it’s been 5 years already)! That’s because I had no specific expectations about whether my kids would be tall or short, fair- or dark-haired, blue- or brown-eyed, 46- or 47-chromosomed. But I DID expect to have ONLY ONE! Those darn expectations!

In  life, reality often doesn’t live up to the expectations we have. Dreams or images we conjured up about how things would be when… The glamorous career we thought we’d achieve. The big bank account we’d have. The Prince Charming, Knight in Shining Armour or Beauty Queen we thought we’d marry. The parent we wanted to be (but sometimes fall short of). All expectations. I’m not a reknowned artist. We barely make the bills each month. My husband’s a great guy but he’s got no jeweled crown and brandishes no sword. And I yell waaaaay more than I thought I would! You see, it’s all about our unrealized expectations. 

For me, my kids are and have always been absolutely perfectly imperfect just exactly as they are. I accept The Boys’ Down syndrome as I accept the Old Soul’s giftedness. Luck of the draw kind of thing!

If there’s anything I’m finding it kind of difficult to accept, it’s the drastic change in my lifestyle that comes with raising a child (or two) with special needs. Or maybe it’s not the special needs. Maybe it’s the twin-thing, or 3 kids, or just kids in general. In truth, the introduction of any children into a comfortable adult life is a HUGE adjustment. Introducing a child with special needs is just a smidge (or more) HUGER. Yes, I expected the loss of my proverbial freedom. But not quite this much. I expected a significant financial impact. But not quite this significant. 

Heck yes, I thought my life would be different. But my childrens’ special needs aren’t the cause for any mild frustration or disappointment I might feel. My life is different than I imagined because of the choices I made. And it’s those choices that brought about my “unrealized” expectations. I chose to settle down and have kids. Increased responsibilities. I chose to stop jetsetting around the world, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking and SCUBA diving whenever and wherever I wanted. Loss of freedom. I chose to quit that high-paying job to stay home and raise my kids. Financial constraints. Yes, my life changed but it’s because of the choices I made, not because my children have special needs. 

Stop and think about your expectations before and after having your children. Did you walk into it with eyes wide open or with a few maybe not-so-realistic expectations of what parenthood might be like? How much of the change is a function of the choice you made to have children versus the special needs? That is, how drastically different do you think your life would be if your child didn’t have special needs? If you didn’t have children at all? If you never got married? The list goes on… Choices!

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t suddenly figured this all out and come to absolute peace with my life. Not just yet… not entirely anyway. Maybe it’s a midlife crisis, but I find I’m I pining lately for just a glimpse of personal freedom. For a passing moment to myself to do what I (can’t emphasize that enough to truly make my point) want to do. That’s really the only reason I ocassionally feel nostalgic for my pre-children days of barely any responsibilities and the freedom to come and go as I please. Not because I don’t love my children or don’t want them. But because sometimes we all need a little break. I do still EXPECT to have a tiny little bit of time for myself. THAT’s an expectation I haven’t let go of yet… and won’t! Not all expectations are bad! 

What are your expectations and do they stand in the way of your acceptance?

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