First off I want to make clear that by “dream child” I am referring to an image you have of a child, not an actual child that has passed. I have not experienced that type of grief so I do not intend to address that. I do want to acknowledge a type of grief that many parents do experience. I think many of us suffer in silence either because we do not even recognize it as grief. Maybe we are embarrassed, ashamed or guilty of our feelings.
Let me explain what I mean by “dream child”. Many of have an image in our heads of what we think our child will be like. We may have very specific images, such as hair color, likes and dislikes, or we may have loose images such as a boy full of energy or a girl that likes to dress up. Sometimes our children are similar to our images and we can easily adapt to their specific personalities. Other times they are extremely different.
Who is this child?
Sometimes are kids are born with challenges we did not plan to face. Or sometimes these challenges develop over time, or suddenly from an accident or illness, but either way, our dream of our child has been drastically altered. These challenges could be cognitive, physical, emotional etc. I don't think any challenge is easier than another. They are all difficult in their own way. Some people accept these challenges without much grief, but many of us grieve for our dream child in one way or another. Anytime life changes things for us we must grieve for the loss of what we had planned and hopefully carry on as a stronger and perhaps more flexible person.
Dealing with Sensory Processing Disorder
A challenge that we face in our house is dealing with sensory processing disorder. Now I know compared to many situations we have it easy. Our son is otherwise a typical kid. He is very social and full of energy. If you spend much time around him you will probably soon be exhausted. I swear his brain moves so fast…I can barely answer one question before he is asking the next. He literally bounces off the walls, or couch, or you! And he touches EVERYTHING! He is very easily bored and finds ways to keep himself busy. That usually involves loud or annoying sounds or actions such as smacking his hands on the table, repeating a loud sound or poking at you. He gets very anxious about future events because he knows he has a hard time dealing with change or the unexpected. Once school started he started chewing on his clothes as a way to calm himself and release stress. Day to day life has gotten easier, we've found our “normal” but it took a while to get here and doing anything out of the normal is always a challenge. One of the harder parts about it is that his needs change as he grows and often change from day to day or in one situation to the next. We have gotten better at predicting what will happen and have even successfully helped him through situations and avoided a meltdown.
I have experienced many feelings in coming to terms with SPD. These are very similar to the stages of grief, but they don't necessarily go in a certain order and you don't just leave a stage to never return to it. I have felt frustration that we have to deal with it. Anger because it makes life more difficult. Thankful because it has forced me to learn a lot about SPD and pass that information on to many other families and I can relate to how they feel, and since my job is working with young children with delays this actually has been helpful. Dislike because sometimes I dislike having my child “behave” the way he does, (even though I know they are not really behaviors but clues that he needs certain activities to help feel regulated again) I feel guilty that I just want him to be “normal” and make life easier. I'd love to just take off on a weekend trip and not worry about how it's going to cause him to meltdown or how he's not going to be able to sleep in a different place. I feel frustrated because I feel like a bad parent because I cannot always be calm and address his needs because I do not feel like doing more sensory activities right this second. I feel judged by people that do not understand SPD and they just think he's a bad kid when they witness his behaviors. and I swear if another person says he just needs a good spanking I'm going to punch them! ha! (I just want to say that if being hit made the body suddenly process sensory information correctly, then instead of Dramamine for motion sickness. we should just hit people and they will feel all better).
It's ok to grieve
I have cried many times and had many mixed emotions in the years I've been a mom. As I write this I have come to the realization that it's not just the dream child we all grieve but I think many moms I know grieve what they thought motherhood was going to be like. NO ONE can prepare you for what it's like to be a parent. There are so many things you just cannot understand until you have kids. Being a parent is a job you can never be fully prepared for no matter how hard you try. It's never as easy as you think it should be. You can have all the answers but in the heat of the moment hear yourself say things that don't even make sense.
I guess my point is this (thanks if you kept up with me until now), you are not alone in your struggles to grieve your dreams. You do not need to feel guilty for feeling sad that things that are out of your control did not go as you imagined them to go. It does not mean you love your child any less, it just means that you are human.
(This post was originally written in 2013)