Before I had kids, I would often daydream and imagine them. Their faces weren’t clear, but I knew they would be tiny versions of me and my husband, and I was sure they would also be perfectly behaved. I equated this to my own experience of being an “easy” child—my mom could give me one sideways glance and I knew to act appropriately or I was in big trouble.
I assumed I would parent the same way and my children would reflect my open heart while also having perfect manners… because I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Then I had kids and was confronted with a new truth: What happens when our parenting reality doesn’t match our expectations?
I have two beautiful boys now, ages 8 and 6. It was a long and complicated journey just to get them here on earth. My older son is sweet, sensitive, smart, introspective, quizzical and complicated. He is not a good listener and can be inflexible and impulsive. He has a hard time socially. He is a “sensory” kid, a “grey area” kid, a pie chart kid, a maybe ADHD kid, a definitely not ADHD but maybe autism spectrum kid, a pre-spectrum kid, a who-knows-what, kid.
We have been through countless evaluations, interventions and therapies to get him where he is now, and have come to realize he is his own complicated and brilliant design of a human and not any particular label.
He is, however, neurodiverse, a term I have struggled with and simultaneously celebrated as his proud mom. He has defied all my ideas and expectations of what I thought my kids would be like, and he has challenged my motherly instincts to the darkest depths of my soul. I’ve fallen to the floor in a puddle of frustrated tears more often than I care to admit, and I’m working about a thousand times harder than most moms just to keep him at stasis.
On the contrary, my younger son is neurotypical, and mostly what I imagined. He is happy, sweet, funny and social. He often has to be the peacemaker in situations to help out his big brother. He hasn’t struggled at all the ways my older son has, and watching him develop only two years behind in such a different way has been incredibly eye-opening.
My husband and I have parented these two boys the same, yet they are so very different. It has confirmed to me what we already know—that so much of this parenting thing is not in our control.
A friend of mine recently sent me a quote by Dr. Shefali, author of The Conscious Parent that really resonated with me. It said “parent the child in front of you and not the child you fantasized about having.”
It has taken all of my patience and dedication to parent my neurodiverse son, but it has surprised me and brought me joy in ways I also didn’t expect.
My son has a hard time making friends but he can tell you anything you need to know about the solar system. He is an avid reader and a better mathematician at 8 years old than many adults. He loves to surf because he says he feels the ocean in his soul. He is a Minecraft Roblox warrior. Most importantly, he asks wise and meaningful questions about life and complicated feelings.
Quarantine has been especially difficult for him and our family dynamic. Most parents have struggled during this time, but compound that with having a child who needs extra exercise and structure; who was used to having hours of intervention and support weekly to thrive, and who struggles socially. It was a perfect storm, and it was the most difficult challenge we’ve faced together, but we did it.
He has made parenting that much more of an exquisite learning experience, certainly not what I expected, and often times frustrating and heartbreaking, but a challenge I’ve accepted with an equal amount of grief, grace and gratitude.
Like all mamas, my love for my baby boy is fierce and boundless and I will continue to fight for him every day of my life.
So next time you see a parent or child struggling, open your heart and have compassion. They are probably working harder than you, even though their child may not reflect that. Whether it’s parenting or some other struggle, we are all navigating some version of our own expectation versus reality, as we wander through this messy, beautiful and complicated journey we call life.