Embracing the New Normal
In the beginning, when a baby is born different, one word comes into focus: loss. Loss of the picture-perfect family. Loss of the ability to show off your baby with instant pride. Loss of that anticipated bond with close friends who can no longer fully relate. Loss of the privilege of worrying about the unimportant things in life. Loss of confidence and any clear picture of how to parent. Loss of conversations with family and friends starting light instead of heavy and concerned. Loss of an easier life.
In the professional world, there is a common expression, “Tone from the top.” It means that people will take cues directly from anyone in a leadership position. When you parent a child who is different, you are the leader in this context; it’s up to you to not only set the tone for your child but also for strangers. Behavior matters.
If you seem unhappy, ashamed, or miserable about your family’s lot in life, people will react in kind, often with pity. Or they might simply avoid being around you, or at least avoid talking about anything related to your child’s difference. Conversely, if you present yourself as a parent with an aura of positivity and are happy to engage, others can have a different take on what your life is actually like and even long to know you better.
KEEP IT IN PERSPECTIVE
When you are focused on your son or daughter who is different, sometimes it can feel as if you’re the only one confronted with challenges. It is also easy to get caught up in thinking that everyone must be constantly focused on your child at every encounter. Other parents, however, are often consumed by invisible struggles their own kids are managing. It helps to remind yourself that other people have concerns or fears of their own.
KEEPING YOUR SAFE PEOPLE CLOSE
When you have a baby or child who becomes different, people with the best of intentions may feel like they have a special license to ask probing questions, weigh in, or get all the answers right away. It can feel like a fast-speeding train coming right at you. The experience reminds the author of getting engaged, sharing the exciting news, and instantly being barraged with questions before she had all the answers, like: Have you set the date yet? Am I your maid of honor? Where’s the wedding going to be? Will it be big or small? Can we invite Aunt Sadie?
They mean well, of course. And yet, it’s simply too soon to satisfy their need to know more. Unlike the happy occasion of a wedding celebration, though, the experience of having a child who is different is not one you’re inclined to celebrate, at least not yet. It’s best to remind people who are prematurely poking that you just need time to process things. If they care about you, they will understand. And if not, it’s not your problem. You have more important things to focus on.
Keep the safe people in your life close. Whether family members or friends, safe people don’t press before you’re ready. They never judge you and instinctively follow your lead. With them, we can cry in self-pity one minute, and then the next moment, laugh so hard, we cry again. We cherish our safe people because they give us the chance to be our authentic selves. They also may act as a defensive tackle when others prematurely press for more information about our baby’s or child’s condition.
WHEN LIFE DOESN’T GO ACCORDING TO PLAN
Consider the things in our lives that were unexpected but turned out to be equally if not more beautiful. Buckle up for a wild ride because having a child who is different can be more glorious and rewarding than you anticipated. But first you need to allow yourself to let go of what might have been as if it were the only road to happiness. It is, after all, possible to treasure the family life you hadn’t planned.
FINDING YOUR (NEW) COMMUNITY
To be honest, it can feel pretty isolating when other parents are chatting about things that are out of reach for your own child. It’s like being part of a book club where everyone is excitedly talking about a book discussing the advantages of living in the United Kingdom when you live in Slovakia. Feel free to join in if you want, but it’s also okay to pass in favor of finding people who can better empathize with your family’s journey. Or, if it gives you comfort to spend time with friends who’ve had babies the same age, maybe give both types of parenting circles a shot. Mostly, pay attention to where you feel the most relaxed.
Let Go and Let Live
Parents of kids who are not different don’t think twice when their child expresses interest in sports, dance, or music. These parents don’t have to worry about whether it’s physically possible for their child to play an instrument, but they may be anxious to discover the extent of their child’s potential talent. The corollary to relinquishing control is being willing to let them fail again and again as they explore what might be possible.
Letting our children fail means that even if it turns out they are incapable of doing something, they learn to live with it. Or maybe they actually are capable but just need to struggle more than most to figure it out. Most important, they need the opportunity to try.
Letting them fail also means holding yourself back from rushing in for the save. Sometimes parents do need to step in and intervene on their child’s behalf. Figuring out whether or when to intervene isn’t always obvious, however. The key is to stay in tune with your child’s true needs, not what you assume they need
Even close family members such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles might presume that your child should be overprotected while in their care. Partner with your pod by sharing your let-go-and-let-live approach and overall disdain of fear-driven parenting. Your child will greatly benefit from everyone being on the same page. Otherwise, inconsistent or conflicting messages may sow confusion, resentment, agitation, and insecurity. A close family member may not have your same fears anyway, and this can actually work in your child’s favor!
Make no mistake. When you find the courage to let go and let live, your child isn’t the only one who reaps the benefits of this important parenting approach. One of the most magnificent joys the author experienced is when she braced herself, stood back, and allowed her kids to follow their dreams as she shared their delight in the process. Since nothing they are able to do is taken for granted, their accomplishments feel that much sweeter. And furthermore, they become a beacon of light not only to the entire family, but to others lucky enough to be touched by their strength, dedication, and perseverance.