“What goals do you have for your child?”
As a parent of a child with special needs I hear this question frequently: at IEP meetings and various appointments, from teachers, therapists and other professionals wanting to help my child learn what is important to me and my family.
This question is a good one and is necessary for the communication of expectations and asked with the most well-meaning intentions, but I have found that over the last couple of years this question is hard for me to answer.
While I try to give the best response and to communicate what relevant challenges my child is having at home, what makes answering this question difficult for me is that the goals I routinely spout out are rooted in expectations–my expectations and societies’ expectations for my child.
Whether we like to admit it or not, all parents have expectations for their children–and many times the expectations begin before the child is even born! Some parents have big plans in mind for their child, like an ivy-league education, a powerful career and a high-figure salary. Other expectations are more subtle, like learning to walk, talk, eat or pay attention through a classroom lesson.
Expectations are even present with well-meaning Christian parents; expectations that our children will learn to memorize Scripture, sing in the children’s choir, or read the Bible.
And if by chance we are having trouble coming up with some of our own expectations for our children in the early years, there are best-selling books to help us figure out just what our child should be doing and when.
There is a reason that these books are wildly popular: we want to make sure our expectations for our child are in line with society’s expectations of what our child should be doing in order to be successful.
But when you are raising a child with special needs, expectations set by society–or by even our own minds–can tend to disappoint.
Early childhood is a time when children are supposed to meet certain developmental milestones, but when our child misses those milestones, we are often left with unmet expectations and feelings of disappointment.
This sentiment can be deepened when we watch the successes of our friend’s children, especially those who may have been born around at the same time as our child, and think how we, too, expected our child to be right there in the mix with the other children, playing a sport or participating in an activity.
Routine errands or social gatherings also become grounds for disappointment as we continually field the question of “what is wrong?” with our child and are frequently informed by strangers that all our child needs is “some good discipline to help change that behavior.” Again, we are pointedly reminded that our child is not meeting society’s expectations for even a simple outing.
But if we stay focused on these societal or personal expectations, we will be unable to live a life full of joy with our child, who was entrusted to us by God.
Where society’s expectation may lead us to be disappointed and down-hearted, conversely, the expectations set by God lead us to love and accept our children for whom they are created to be.
In Psalm 139:13-14, the Psalmist explains his realization of God’s sovereignty in the forming of life:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
To truly live like I believe the above Scripture to be true, I cannot be disappointed when my expectations for my child are not met. Instead, I need to embrace my child as the wonderful creation he is as I help guide, teach and parent him–throwing expectations out the window.
To fully embrace him I have to remember this fact, not just on the good days but on the hard days too–and most particularly on the demanding days that are filled with frustrations and meltdowns.
I have to continually set aside my personal expectations and focus on what God expects–mainly what He expects from me:
- Unconditional love.
- Acceptance of His timing and plans.
- Patience in all circumstances.
- Endurance through the daily struggles.
- Joy in even the smallest successes.
As with my expectations for myself, so have my goals for my special child changed over the last couple of years. The goals below are some of my personal goals for my child, not the ones I spout off to professionals.
These goals have more to do with keeping my heart and reactions God-centered and not expectation- or performance-centered. I believe these goals are what God has called me to help my child meet:
- I want him to know and feel the love of God in and through our family.
- I want him to know we love and accept him just the way God created him.
- I want us to see his differences as strengths not weaknesses.
- I want him and others to know, through me, that my God did not make one single mistake when he was knitting my child’s DNA together in my womb.
Cover image captured and used with permission by Candace Wolfenbarger Photography