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.
My child marches to the beat of a different drummer than most kids her age. Frankly, she’s listening to an entirely different orchestra! And no matter how much I know that it’s actually a good thing for her to dance to her 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!
So over the years, with a particularly “quirky” kid, I have found myself a little lost with each of her 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 daughter has chosen a path so different from hers.
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. This year’s graduation season was no exception.
As I attended the HS graduation ceremony of a school I once expected my daughter to graduate from –and watched her peers, a few friends, and my niece cross a stage that she would never cross – I found myself intensely conflicted. It’s not that I wanted my daughter to be there. Okay, well, it would have been nice. But would I trade what was best for her for my comfort as a parent? No way! So I supported the many children I’ve known all these 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 daughter’s graduation at another school, in another state. It’s a long and complicated story that I won’t go into here – I’m still trying to figure out how best to share it – but the bottom line is that she 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.
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 daughter reached a major milestone alongside her peers. She marched in a cap and gown – and floral-lined combat boots – her 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 daughter’s approach to life, sometimes I still find myself left standing on the sidelines of a game she’s 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 her. I’m really proud of her 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 daughter’s High School graduation reminded me that as my daughter’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.
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