One of the hardest parts of parenting is the expectation. From the minute the test comes back positive, we start imagining who that baby will become and what life will look like with them in it. For some, those imaginings start even earlier. We laugh at the people who like to say, “Well, when I have kids, they’re going to . . . eat their vegetables/sleep through the night/never talk back.”

We all have conscious and unconscious expectations for our children, some big and some small. But an infuriating truth is that kids will insist on becoming their own people. Parenting becomes an exercise in overcoming disappointment in what we thought “would be” and then reframing our desires for our children.

We see this happen in big and small ways all along. You see it in small ways like your children refusing to participate in dance or sports the way you did or they reject Star Wars when you know every line. Perhaps they don’t like to read like you do or would rather stay home with a book than go surfing. Those little things can be a bit of a blow but you readjust relatively quickly.

What can really knock us back are bigger changes and the aspects of life that you simply cannot control. Maybe your child is born neuro-divergent, suffers some sort of grave injury, or has an incurable disease. Perhaps your family faces a divorce, or trauma, or a death in the family. Whatever the reason, the future is different than you thought it’d be.

I went through one of these picture-altering moments a while back. I hadn’t realized just how many expectations I’d had until I lost them all. There was shock, sadness, and guilt. A friend sat with me to process all of the emotions I didn’t understand and then she offered a bit of wisdom that has stayed profoundly with me. “You’ve got to grieve the dream you had and then build a new one.”

As parents, we have to go through this process over and over in big and small ways. My journey has taught me a few things about the road.

Grieve

  • It’s normal to feel sad.

More importantly, it’s OKAY to feel sad. This does not reflect on your love for your child or your strength as a parent. You can be a fabulously supportive and engaged parent while still mourning what you thought would be.

  • Find a healthy outlet.

This may be a therapist, a very patient friend, a journal, exercise, prayer or meditation.  Chances are you are giving a lot to your child in this time, make sure you find and allow for support for you.

  • Don’t bring your child into this part of your process.

No matter how close and honest you are with each other, you might unintentionally become an extra weight on their shoulders through guilt or just helplessness. 

Build

  • Learn as much as possible.

Whatever change Life has thrown at you, it helps to find out everything there is to know. Eliminating as many of the questions and unknowns as possible helps you to make a new picture of the future.

  • Meet others further along the road.

Connection is one of the most valuable resources we have as parents. Your heart and your mind will be soothed being around others experiencing similar things. Plus, nothing helps us imagine the possibilities of a positive future more than seeing it first-hand.

  • Give it time.

Eventually, this reality will become your new normal. Just as you didn’t intentionally sit down and draw up a specific future for your family the first time, you won’t this time either. One day, down the line, you’ll discover that you can imagine your child in ten or twenty years, living a new equally fulfilling life. Your dreams have rebuilt themselves!

Life is always hard in one way or another. It’s definitely never exactly what we expected. In the end, you just have to forgive yourself, hold onto hope, and do your best. Remember, you are strong!