Expectations truly are a thief of joy.
When we received my daughter’s diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder at age two, my heart broke into a million pieces. Everything that I had expected that my daughter would have, do, love, be, was altered in that very instant.
I had done all the research, I had pushed for the assessment, as I knew in my heart that something wasn’t quite “normal” (whatever that means). I had expected the diagnosis and so had expected that I would be able to handle this confirmation of my fears. But I didn’t – I couldn’t help but grieve the loss of what I thought my life would be. In truth…it broke me for a while. And my failure to handle it broke me even more.
I now realise that I wasn’t heartbroken by the actual diagnosis, nor by the reality of our existence, instead my heartbreak stemmed from my expectations of what society had taught me that my life should be like. For that brief time, I felt I had lost my daughter and our potential, but the reality was that my expectations were blinding me from the potential right in front of me.
If I take a moment to look at everything I have in my life – I realise I couldn’t be more blessed! Is it hard? YES! Some days it feels like the mountain is just too steep to climb. But every parent has their own trials and tribulations and this is ours. Would I change my daughter? Not in a million years! She has taught me so much about openness, acceptance life and an unconditional love that is more powerful than any other thing that exists on this planet. I also realise that this diagnosis has opened up a whole new set of potentials that I didn’t realise existed before. Potential in her, and in her sister, her father and myself.
Since this “revelation” I have come to recognise expectations as being the source of almost all disappointment. If you think about the last time you were sad or disappointed – it probably stemmed from a time that you expected something to go a certain way and it didn’t. We seem to need to have control, or certainty in our lives – but in reality, very little in our existence is certain – so any effort to control it is futile.
Expectation stops you from living in the present and forces you, instead, to live in anticipation of the future, or in fear and regret from the past. When we don’t live in the present, we risk failing to see an existing reality that could be equally good or even better!
Expectations not only cause disappointment, but for my daughter (and many others – whether they suffer from Autism Spectrum Disorder or any other condition) they are limiting and cause isolation. We, as a society, EXPECT people to behave or react a certain way to things. We expect our children to sit and listen quietly. We expect children to speak back when they are spoken to. But not all children can.
For example, at Christmas we went to the village Christmas party and our daughter amazed us by recognising and wanting to see Santa! She hasn’t previously shown any interest or understanding at Christmas so this was such beautiful progress for us to witness. The issue came when all the children had to sit down and wait for their name to be called. This is a concept she is yet to fully comprehend, so instead she danced beside Santa. I had so many mixed emotions – pride (seeing her excitement and development), excitement (that she was integrating and been part of the event), panic (whether I should have been removing her from the situation). It’s a really difficult thing to balance, right? How do I allow her to learn, and give her chance to be part of it, if I keep removing her from the situation?
In the end, the decision was made for us as we were called over the PA system to “collect” our daughter and we went and sat at the back of the hall. It was hard, as by allowing our daughter to integrate, she was disrupting it for everyone else, which just isn’t fair on the other children. Nor, is having to sit at the back of the hall, fair on her.
A couple of days later, we had another Christmas party and guess what…. I EXPECTED it to go the same way! But this time, she blew my expectations out of the water when she sat with the other children while they sang Christmas carols. With my support and encouragement she was also finally able to meet Santa. She did so beautifully, standing in awe of him. To top it off, a most thoughtful friend decided to record the moments for me, knowing I was unable to do so. See, we can expect and be disappointed with the outcome, or instead in ourselves, because we didn’t have trust and faith.
Expectations not only steal our joy, they limit what we believe to be possible. This teaches me the importance of having faith in my daughter. I can expect something to be too triggering for my daughter and keep her away, when in fact she might have done amazingly well. Don’t assume your child isn’t listening, doesn’t know and can’t do things. If we stop expecting them to fail, they might just fly! Give them the chance to shine and show us their true potential.
What I have come to realise is my daughter is able to take in the detail that other’s can’t, and that attention to detail means she is unable to prioritise the mundane or unimportant things in her world that we think are important. It doesn’t make her incapable, it doesn’t make her slow. It means she can teach us ALL something – we just have to be ready and open to listen.
Ultimately, by having expectations – we fail to see the amazingness of what IS! What exists right now, and what is there for us to appreciate in all of its glory.