Can You Make Peace With Your Child’s Differences?
Warning: This blog is not about your kids. It's about you, and about how having an “outside the box” kid can affect you as a parent. And, it's about how I finally found some peace with it.
Children Change Us
My child marches to the beat of a different drummer than most kids their age. Frankly, they're listening to an entirely different orchestra! And no matter how much I know that it's actually a good thing for them to dance to their own music, it can be really hard for me to keep dancing, myself, when I have no clue what music I'm dancing to most of the time.
Once we have children, their lives influence ours, their friends' parents become ours, their schools become a focus of our attention, and their activities become an outlet for our volunteerism. We are enmeshed in each other's worlds. For most of us, long before they get there, we create a vision of what it will be like when our children achieve certain milestones – kindergarten, school dances & proms, graduations. Alongside that vision, we create a picture of what the experience will be like for us.
To support our “complex” kids in their growth and development, we often need to shift those images we created when they were little, changing our expectations to meet the child we have, not the child we thought we would have. Of course, that means changing our dreams for ourselves, as well.
It's difficult for parents to shift expectations for our kids. I've come to believe that it's even harder to change what we envision for ourselves!
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Losing My Place
So over the years, with a particularly “quirky” kid, I have found myself a little lost with each of their childhood milestones, out of sync with my friends and – to be totally honest – mesmerized and a little jealous. It's been hard to find my place as a parent among my own peers when my child has chosen a path so different from theirs.
This has happened so many times, now, that you'd think I'd be accustomed to it. But I'm not. It still has the ability to hit me like a ton of bricks. My child's graduation season was no exception.
As I attended the HS graduation ceremony of a school I once expected my child to graduate from – and watched their peers, a few friends, and my niece cross a stage that they would never cross – I found myself intensely conflicted. It's not that I wanted my child to be there. Okay, well, it would have been nice. But would I trade what was best for them for my comfort as a parent? No way! So I supported the many children I'd known all those years, and their parents who were once my peers. And I cried, co-mingling tears of joy and sadness.
The following week David and I attended our child's graduation at another school, in another state. It's a long and complicated story – I'm still trying to figure out how best to share it – but the bottom line is that they graduated in a small class of 15 kids in a school dedicated to “2E” Education – education for kids who are twice exceptional, both gifted and challenged.
Finding My Place
We attended the lovely backyard-style graduation, surrounded by parents we didn't know. At first I felt like a guest at my own wedding. Then, I realized that I had more in common with these parents than all of my friends at the other school.
- THESE parents fully understood our journey, though they didn't know us at all.
- THESE parents understood what it means to raise an intensely bright, complicated child.
- THESE parents had also struggled with the challenges of educating a child for whom “doing school” did not come naturally or easily.
So in addition to earning a HS diploma – which was hard won, to say the least – my child reached a major milestone alongside their peers. They marched in a cap and gown – and floral-lined combat boots – their successes, both in and out of school, acknowledged and celebrated. I sat reveling in my peers, parents I didn't know but who understood my parenting experience in a way that was surprisingly gratifying!
Even though I've grown to accept and embrace my child's approach to life, sometimes
- I still find myself left standing on the sidelines of a game they're no longer playing.
- As I look around, it seems like I should be in the right place. But then I remember that my child left the field, in search of a game better suited for them.
- I'm really proud of them for that! And I'm learning to take a deep breath, smile to myself, and either enjoy the game I'm watching – or give myself permission to do something else.
At the end of the day (or, rather, a very long High School career), my child's High School graduation reminded me that as my child's path shifts, so, too, will mine. It's okay that I don't know the other parents on the new route. We understand each other. And let's be serious, at the end of this long educational adventure called childhood, that is what I've wanted all along.