What does letting go mean? Answer: it means a lot of different things to different people. We let go of things that have caused us emotional pain in the past and we can let go of relationships. As the parent of a young person with additional needs we also sometimes let go of our expectations. I’ve heard other parents talk about going through something that felt like mourning when they first got their child’s diagnosis. Mourning the child they might have had and the life that child would have had have. At first this sounds really negative but in reality, it’s natural because we have expectation about what parenting will be like and what kind of parent you will be. I was aiming for Little House on the Prairie, but I suspect my daughters see more of the Simpsons.
So, after we get over this realisation that the journey we are going on with our child is going to be different than what we might have expected, we decide that whatever happens our child will have the same opportunities we had and we get on with parenting them.
What this can mean and how to let go of our own expectations was the theme of the latest podcast, Letting Go, where I talked to Fiona, a Brit who now live in the US, who has to two sons with autism. Fiona explains that like most parents she followed the expected path for her oldest son in terms of his education. So, when her son was younger, one issue that Fiona faced head on was the perceptions of other parents at her son’s school. They didn’t understand autism so from that came an expectation of her son and how he would behave at school. By actively speaking to other parents she changed their expectations of her son and this had a positive impact, at least on a social level.
Fiona also talks about moving to a new country and the impact that can have. The move wasn’t easy and there were ups and downs with the end result being, that when her son turned 16, Fiona and her husband decided to let go of their own expectations of what he should be doing and let him leave school, which at that point he hated. After a brief period, he decided that wanted to continue his education albeit in a different way. He has now finished his high school diploma and started college a year earlier than he would have done if he stayed in school.
So although the leaving school option might not be available here in the UK what I learnt from talking to Fiona is that I need to look at whether what I want for my daughter is based on my expectations or her aspirations. If I truly want her to be independent the first thing I need to do is let go of my expectations of what her life will look like and let her design her own life.