Before we become parents, we already have expectations about our children’s lives. For most of us, they are unintentional but they are there and come from, I believe, our own life experiences. I didn’t recognize this in myself until I had my first child. I didn’t consciously pre-plan his life, I just figured he’d follow a similar path to mine or my husband’s. Both of us were honor roll students, participated in school and community activities, socialized with our peers, and took on leadership roles when given the opportunity.
Jonathan was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and though extremely bright, he struggled with school work and conventional teaching methods were not effective for his style of learning. He loved structure, rules and clear, concise directions but not in the confines of a traditional learning environment. His mind was rich with creativity and he adored imaginary play but preferred it as a solitary activity over interacting with other children.
It became very clear he was never going to follow in our footsteps. There wasn’t much written or known about Aspergers when he was growing up, so we had to rely on our instincts and focusing in on what would be best for him when it came to making decisions about recommended therapies and educational interventions.
But first and foremost, we had to give up our expectations…to free him from feeling as though he was ‘less-than’ because he couldn’t be who he thought we wanted him to be. It was so liberating to let go and not worry so much about his future life but stay focused on the here and now. So, for example, college was out of the question unless we found the right school and teaching methods to tap into his brilliance. It wasn’t easy, but we did and he did go to college. And his college experience was not typical either…yet he graduated with honors.
As his mother, I know I’m important to him and he loves me. I don’t ‘expect’ him to remember my birthday, ask me about what I’m interested in, sing my praises, or think of me at all really. The Asperger mind is extremely busy and too hyper-focused to think of such social ‘trivialities’ so I’m not offended or hurt nor do I play the martyr over his unintended neglect. When he does notice me, or he says, “Hey, mom you look nice,” I’m overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude.
What most see as ‘small’ victories, we consider big celebration time in our family. Molly will run down the stairs to exclaim that her brother immediately responded to her text! I’ll do a happy dance when I call to remind him of an important TODO only to be told, “I already did it.” We marvel at his ability to remember every single detail in a book he’s read or a movie he’s seen…even if that was years ago.
No, we don’t spend time thinking about what could have been because that doesn’t really exist. Those thoughts come from a place of expectations. We choose to feel the joy in the unexpected, the glory in the seemingly mundane moments, and an appreciation for our son’s unique talents and capabilities even though they are so very different from ours.
Yes, my son taught me the blessings of no expectations…and to delight, cherish and celebrate the journey of our lives.