Thursday, December 8, 2016

Unrealisitc Expectations are Premeditated Resentments

The first decade of my life was spent in a home filled with love but also expectations.  High expectations, often unattainable expectations.  My mom was a perfectionist, and it wasn't quite as much that she wanted things to be perfect, but she wanted things to at least APPEAR perfect.  She did a great job of this.  From the outside looking in, we probably looked near to perfection as a family.

Appearances can be deceiving.  My mom was struggling with mental health and as a result every one in the house was also struggling.  I am still trying to piece my childhood together and heal from the trauma unintentionally inflicted upon me by the one who supposedly loved me most and in her own way, she did.  I am grateful in my life to have learned that there is One who DOES love me most.

I often find myself struggling with those expectations my mother held, wanting the world to see the family of beautiful well behaved, well groomed children, wanting to put on a picture perfect view of our family.  I mean we're a good looking crew, but it is a mirage.  We are a crew of broken people hobbling our way through life the best way we know how, we have nothing really figured out, we spend our days changing diapers, making meals, cleaning endless messes and feeling like we are botching all of it.

We want to send our kids into the world and have others see our kids as lovely, obedient little genius rockstars.  We often measure our success by their ability to do this.  As my kids grow, I am learning that especially my kids who come from a more traumatic beginning, cannot live up to that expectation.  They have big feelings, big fears and lack the coping skills to shove it all under the rug the way my brain has been wired to do.  Their brains are wired quite differently.

Brain science tells us that early trauma affects kids...even babies.  Stressful pregnancy, drug use, neglect, poverty, all of these things play a role in how the brain of a person is wired from the very beginning.  There are six kids who currently call me mom, each of them with their own unique brain wiring, with their own strengths and weaknesses.  Somehow when we get a compliment on our parenting or on our kids' behavior it validates us, makes us feel as though we are succeeding.

One of my children has been struggling...especially in school.  For months, behavior reports, bus suspensions, and teacher phone calls have been keeping my anxiety level above 100.  The feeling of failure overwhelms me.  I adopted her.  I love her.  I want to save her from all of this.  I want her to succeed, and if SHE succeeds, then I have succeeded.

I have been at the end of my rope, unsure of what to to next for her.  I want the whole world to see her the way I see her.  I want them to see a ray of sunshine, a walking rainbow, a beautiful girl who is beating the odds.  They see behavior.  She cannot put on the facade most of us learn to put on.  She wears it ALL on her sleeve, her joy, her frustration, her sadness, her anger, all of it.  I have felt helpless and alone, and I can't really even imagine how it feels to be her.

I sat in a child psychologist's office with her this week, desperate for hope, desperate for answers.  What I got was a little bit different.  It was an emotional appointment as we discussed all of my little girl's strengths and weaknesses, her struggles and her past, but when I left that office, I left with a gift.  I left with a feeling of having ACTUALLY been heard.  I left with a peace that that woman saw my daughter as I see her.  She saw the amazing, brilliant and sweet little girl I love, and she saw her struggles.  Never did a look of annoyance cross her face just compassion and understanding.

My girl responded well to her and obviously so did I.  I didn't realize how much I just needed someone to HEAR me, not to downplay my concerns or to blame poor discipline, but to HEAR me. Expectations are a good thing, and we should hold high expectations of our kids but we need to make sure they are realistic.  This woman "got" my girl.  Her expectations for her were high and appropriate.  She helped me to see that my success as her mom has nothing to do with my daughter's perceived success in the world.

As I drove home, tears ran down my cheeks as I came to the realization that success looks different for different people.  I cannot spend my days worrying about the years ahead.  I must spend my days in this moment, helping my kids find their own success for today.  I cannot be their savior.  That job is already taken.  I can be their mom.  Their cheerleader, their biggest advocate.  The fight is long and the fight is hard.  I am exhausted, but one day at a time, I will choose love and compassion.  I will still get spit at, and kicked and screamed at.  I am parenting children who need to release those feelings and they feel safe to do it with me, even though it hurts.  I will snuggle them and reassure them, I will discipline them by teaching them the way they need to be taught and let go of what the world thinks I should be doing, because if they've got it figured out, then they should be doing it.

So, parents out there, parents of special needs kids, kids from hard places, kids who've endured trauma.  I see you.  I hear you, and I am with you.  You'll find no judgement here, we're all limping along as best we can.  We might as well do it together.  Let's redefine success, let's continue to raise happy kids who feel loved and live up to their own greatest potential...whatever that looks like.  Hold those expectations high, but attainable.  I raise my coffee mug to you, one day at a time, and sometimes just moment by moment, we can do this, it is a hard and sacred job, but we are blessed to do it.

                                                       Photo by Holly Jane Photography